Why the Cancellation of ‘Neighbors’ Also Marks the End of an Era for Global Soaps (Column)


The cancellation of long-running Australian soap opera ‘Neighbours’ has led to a multi-generational wave of nostalgia among audiences in the UK, where the show has aired since 1986. Ahead of its August 1 finale, ‘Neighbours’ has received a ratings boost that made it one of the most popular programs on its Paramount Channel 5-backed broadcaster. Not only that, but a nationwide tour featuring some of the show’s most famous characters has been announced. Why go visit the fictional suburb of Erinsborough in Melbourne, when Erinsborough can come to you?

Airing for 36 years, the majority of it on the TUSEN, ‘Neighbours’ has all the hallmarks of a modern-day soap opera: liaisons, hospital visits, plane crashes, explosions, marriages that lead to explosions, weddings which accidentally lead to the newlyweds falling off a cliff and the bride getting lost at sea, only to return decades later to avenge a doppelgänger who stole her identity. And of course, the time Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne) slipped on spilled milk, hit her head and thought she was a teenager. Still, the level of fanfare isn’t quite what’s typically expected for a daytime TV show cancellation.

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Perhaps it was due to the fact that for many years you could not really avoid the “Neighbors”. Repeated twice a day at a time when there were far fewer channels, the show became mandatory at home and in the break room at school or at work. Over 20 million people watched the wedding between two of its most popular characters, Charlene (Kylie Minogue) and Scott (Jason Donovan). Their on-screen relationship and subsequent marriage in 1987 (pictured) not only helped launch their respective decades-long music careers, but were also one of the most defining moments in British pop culture of the 1980s .

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Strangely, even my name can be linked to his heritage. Shortly after I was born, my mother asked my three older sisters for name suggestions. Obsessed with their relationship, my older sister suggested Scott and the name stuck. (I reached out to my mom for a comment on this column. Her response: “I’ve always liked the name Scott and it’s all coincidence. Also, did you get that message we passed on to you?” )

There were also other memorable, ridiculous and surreal storylines. There was the moment when Daphne Clarke (Elaine Smith) managed to give birth without taking off her pantyhose. There was the time Paige Smith (Olympia Valance) had sex with a Catholic priest in the middle of a hot air balloon disaster, and when Cheryl Stark (Caroline Gillmer), who was visiting her son overseas , was kidnapped by Ecuadorian rebels and had an affair with one of her captors. And who can forget the episode where we saw what the dogs dream of?

Tonally, ‘Neighbours’ also felt at odds with other British soap operas. While everyone was murdered in ‘Hollyoaks’ and after Christmas dinner in ‘EastEnders’, ‘Neighbors’ always felt like a warm and upbeat watch, even when the storylines weren’t. not. The Aussie sun has always tricked you into thinking things are constantly better than they actually are and lifted viewers on those cool, wet and miserable British days.

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Compared to other soap operas, “Neighbors” has also made progress in becoming more inclusive. A few weeks after same-sex marriages became legal in Australia, ‘Neighbours’ celebrated their first gay wedding. The soap also featured its first transgender character, Mackenzie, played by Georgie Stone, who has said in interviews that she works closely with story editors to ensure fair representation. And shortly after the soap opera’s end was announced, “Neighbors” debuted its first non-binary character, played by Kathleen Ebbs. (It’s a shame such diversity hasn’t always been the case behind the cameras, with an investigation launched after allegations of racism on set last year.)

So why was “Neighbors” canceled? This is largely due to its unique distribution model. “Neighbours” receives far more viewers in the UK than at home in Australia. Channel 5, which in recent years has targeted an older, more upscale demographic, decided not to renew its contract so it could spend more money on its primetime programming. A UK broadcaster or streamer had to rush the show to keep it sustainable – but none stepped in.

A lot of this sounds like a matter of bad timing. The days of a TV broadcaster buying a soap opera from a rival are long gone, as when Channel 5 reportedly paid £300m ($367m) to snatch ‘Neighbours’ from the TUSEN in 2008. streams have created competition and hundreds of (very expensive) originals, but these services tend to opt for limited series that streamers can simply cancel if the program doesn’t get the immediate boost in subscriptions or ratings that they want. they anticipated.

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Even if the streaming wars had set in and been able to make longer-term commitments on their schedules, the ability for a streamer to commit to 240+ episodes a year right now is probably too much for them, even if millions would probably watch the first few episodes. It doesn’t help that the soap opera is mostly watched in the UK, rather than Australia, and fails to reach a significant audience in many other countries. A streaming purchase would effectively mean supporting year-round production on the other side of the world, which is exactly what Channel 5 is currently doing.

When many shows are canceled, they never get a chance to say goodbye. For “Neighbors,” many of the show’s most notable characters may return to the latest set of episodes, including Scott and Charlene. While news of a cancellation is always hard on fans and crew, at least they can take comfort in knowing that very few shows leave us with near-universal adoration, even from viewers who haven’t. haven’t seen an episode in years. “Neighbors” can have a good goodbye, and maybe it can be part of the show’s legacy.

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