Goodbye to good Neighbours: Iconic Australian soap to take its final bow this summer
Australia’s longest-running television drama Neighbours is sadly approaching its last ever episode, which airs in the UK this summer, having been a much loved staple of UK television for 37 years. Catapulting Kylie Minogue into the pop music stratosphere, the show also opened doors into the music industry for Natalie Imbruglia, Jason Donovan, Holly Valance, Delta Goodrem and Natalie Bassingthwaighte of Rogue Traders. It launched the Hollywood careers of Guy Pearce, Margot Robbie, Chris, Luke and Liam Hemsworth, and Russell Crowe also appeared in a handful of early episodes. Fan favourite Alan Dale, who portrayed Jim Robinson in the 80s and early 90s, has appeared in numerous hit US shows including Lost, Ugly Betty and The OC.
As well as being a training ground for such stars, Neighbours has also given a plethora of writers, directors, actors and crew countless invaluable opportunities over the decades. The job losses resulting from the surprise axing of the serial is a huge blow for the relatively small Australian television industry, especially in the wake of the pandemic. So why is a show that’s broadcast internationally with a consistent UK audience of around 1.4 million per day ceasing production? We live in an age oversaturated with streaming platforms and a constant demand for fresh content. Netflix has become known for cutting shows early on if they are underperforming and there have been countless series on terrestrial television that haven’t made the impact expected of them. Low viewing figures inevitably lead to cancellations, but that is not the case here.
The Aussie export pulls in more viewers than its Australian competitor Home and Away, which also airs on Channel 5, and it remains the channel’s top-rated daytime show, regularly capturing its highest audience share of the day. It also draws higher audience numbers than some UK continuing dramas. Furthermore, it was one of the first long-running shows in the world to resume filming following the pandemic, setting a benchmark and providing a roadmap for UK soaps and production companies to follow.
Neighbours has always enjoyed a large and loyal UK audience – the Queen Mother was such a fan that she invited the cast to perform at the Royal Variety Show in 1988. It has long been far more popular here than in its homeland. For that reason, it has become dependent on a UK backer to finance it over the years. From 1986 until 2008, the BBC was its home, broadcasting the same episode in both a lunchtime and early evening slot each day. Channel 5 then stepped in but have now terminated their contract, citing high production costs and a desire to concentrate on creating homegrown drama. It’s a risky move, considering the popularity of Neighbours. While the current viewing figures are a far cry from the dizzy heights of the 21 million who tuned into Scott and Charlene’s wedding, the serial still performs very well in a television landscape that has changed drastically during its run. It will no doubt leave a gaping void in the UK TV schedules.
The announcement that the show was ceasing production was met with shock and sadness from fans around the world but most notably in the UK. #Saveneighbours trended on social media, the theme tune knocked Ed Sheeran off the number one spot on the iTunes chart and a fan petition garnered close to 70,000 signatures. There is evidently still a great deal of love and nostalgia for the show. So many have grown up with it and its characters, tuning in after school before The Simpsons or absconding into its carefree world during university exams. Neighbours has always fulfilled the brief of what a soap opera should be: a mirror on society with an exploration of real-life issues, while simultaneously offering complete escapism. It’s never taken itself too seriously and has always successfully balanced the laughs and lightheartedness with the heavier character-driven drama.
The 80s golden era could naturally never be replicated, however, much of the 90s provided memorable storylines including Karl Kennedy’s affair with Sarah, the reappearance of Harold Bishop after he was presumed dead along with wife Madge, the exit of matriarch Helen Daniels and the Martins, and the arrival of the Scully family. The early 2000s saw one of the strongest and most compelling stories in Neighbours history with Karl’s second affair with Izzy and his subsequent marriage breakdown with Susan, as well as the return of original cast member Paul Robinson, who remains in the show.
In 2013, current executive producer Jason Herbison took the reins. Herbison worked on the show many years ago before embarking on a career with Inside Soap. He knows Ramsay Street inside-out, and the fact that he is such a passionate fan himself has shone through with the series, at times almost feeling like a love letter to its dedicated audience in recent years.
Herbison instigated the return of many well-known characters from yesteryear – including 90s favourite Amy Greenwood, Plain Jane Super Brain from the Kylie and Jason era, Harold and Madge (despite the latter’s death) and, in perhaps one of the show’s more surreal storylines, Dee Bliss. Herbison has connected old-school Neighbours with the present cast, providing pleasing memories but not sacrificing credible storytelling in the process. He also made Australian television history by featuring the first gay marriage, and Georgie Stone – a prominent cast member – is the first transgender actor to appear on the soap. Neighbours feels current and contemporary with bold and ambitious storytelling and a cohesive cast who all complement one another effortlessly. It’s ironic that its final years have seen the show consistently on top of its game, but it is also gratifying to see it ending on a high.
Long gone are the once endearing wobbly sets of the early days – in fact Neighbours has never looked so high-budget and has even enjoyed late-night and feature-length specials in recent years. Herbison has assured fans that Ramsay Street will not be destroyed in a shocking final episode. Instead, the month leading up to the finale will be a celebration of a show that has entertained generations for close to 40 years. Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan will join a host of other returnees with the door very much being left open. Here’s hoping a streaming platform or another UK production company finally sees sense and revives Ramsay Street. We need it and the comforting distraction it offers now more than ever.
Neighbours is on every weekday on Channel 5. The final episode airs on 1st August 2022. For further information visit here.