There’s plenty of queer appeal in the newest channel on television, Eleven. Chief among them: The Simpsons, Mary Murphy, Michael C Hall and the handsome lads from Neighbours.
In January 1986, a TV soap about a group of ordinary Australians who shared a suburban cul-de-sac screened on Network Ten. It was a modest drama with a simple premise, yes, but one that laid a solid foundation and cultivated lasting television legacy.
More than two decades later, hundreds of thousands of viewers in Australia, and countless more overseas, still tune in every night to find out what is happening with the residents of Ramsay Street in Neighbours.
2010 was, without a doubt, a big year for Neighbours. For one, it celebrated its 25th anniversary. Not a mean feat in the cutthroat world of television and the even more dicey world of TV soaps. But with longevity comes loyalty and that is something Neighbours is oozing with. As well as Australia, Neighbours is broadcast to more than 50 countries around the world. It is, by far, one of Australia’s most successful home-grown creations and media exports.
2010 was also notable as Neighbours ventured into new territory in terms of its subplots and storylines. Specifically, the introduction of its first regular gay character, Chris Pappas (portrayed by James Mason). Though gay characters are not new in television, the character represented new ground for Neighbours, a series that has always strived to reflect the realities of everyday life in Australia. Producers have signalled that the new season of Neighbours will carry more storylines that are bolder and even more dramatic, and queer viewers will be glad to hear that they’ll be seeing more of Mason’s Chris.
“Gay fans of Neighbours will be glad to know that Chris Pappas’ role with the show will be expanded in 2011,” a Network Ten spokesperson told SX. “From about April, Chris will get a lot more screen time and some episodes will see him tackle issues that every gay teenager does.”
It all comes at a significant time for Neighbours with the series spearheading Network Ten’s new digital multi channel, Eleven. Aimed directly at younger viewers, Eleven launches this week on – wait for it – January 11, 2011.
“Neighbours is perfectly suited to Eleven’s audience strategy and will find a successful and enduring home on Eleven,” said Network Ten chief programming officer, David Mott. “We will round out the first 25 years with a bang and give Australia’s most successful drama a new home to keep it vibrant in the schedule for the next 25.”
Actor Scott McGregor, who stars in Neighbours as Detective Mark Brennan, said it was an honour to have the show become the jewel in Eleven’s crown.
“It’s really exciting that Neighbours has been chosen to be the flagship show of this new channel,” he tells SX. “At the same time not much will change as we’re still on at 6.30pm but just at a new front door.”
Along with Neighbours, gay viewers will find plenty of other fodder in Eleven with shows like Dexter, So You Think You Can Dance (US) and 90210 all part of the line-up. Eleven will also become the home of the world’s cheekiest – and campest – series ever made, The Simpsons.
Neighbours airs at 6.30pm weeknights on Eleven. Eleven launches on Tuesday, January 11, 2011.
Pictured: Making the switch … to Eleven: Neighbours’ stars Scott McGregor, Chris Milligan and Jordan Smith.
LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR
As the brooding Detective Mark Brennan, handsome actor Scott McGregor has brought a welcome dose of eye candy to Ramsay Street. It should come as no surprise, of course, given that McGregor first stepped into the media spotlight as a model. Indeed, readers will recognise him pre-Neighbours, when he appeared in the gay glossy DNA. As Neighbours makes the switch to the hot new channel, Eleven, SX caught up with McGregor to talk about the show, his character and his big gay following. Interview by Nate Mico.
What's the overall feeling from the cast about Neighbours move to Eleven?
Pretty positive! It’s really exciting that we’ve been chosen to be the flagship show of this new channel. At the same time, not much will change as we’re still on at 6.30pm but just at a new front door.
What will viewers notice most about the change?
Hopefully nothing. I think we need to just reassure everyone that it’s the same show that everyone knows and loves. The favourites such as Dr Karl, Toadie and Susan are still there but with some new faces thrown in, like me!
What can you tell us about Neighbours in 2011?
It will be a great season. There’s a big love triangle storyline with Summer, Andrew and Tash that just never ends, even a fake pregnancy is thrown in. With my character, Detective Brennan, he is still battling the ‘career versus personal life’ plot with his new romance with Kate Ramsay. He also starts to investigate an illegal bike racing syndicate that involves Lucas (played by Scott Major) which I loved to do because I get to ride motorbikes.
What would you like to see happen with your character next year?
Brennan seems pretty career focused so I hope he gets to grow in his profession. Or get tempted by the wrong side of the law, which would be fun.
Who are you favourite actors to work with on the set?
Tough question but I think Jordan Smith (who plays Andrew Robinson) – he’s a real larrikin and constantly jokes around. Sometimes too much and we get in trouble from the director.
About your involvement in the Paul Robinson/attempted murder storyline – given that Stefan Denis is a veteran Neighbours actor, what has that experience been like for you?
It’s been great. Although for most of that storyline Stefan was in a hospital bed so I was interrogating all the murder suspects rather than sharing scenes with him. But still, it’s Paul Robinson, that’s pretty cool.
What have you learnt from him?
I’ve learned so much. Not just from Stefan but from everyone. I’ve been on the show just over six months and I’m just like a sponge, soaking everything up.
Were you a fan of Neighbours growing up?
Wasn’t everyone!? We always had it on at our place just before dinner time. I would’ve never thought that I would actually be on it one day.
You've also got quite a solid gay fan base, and you've modelled in magazines including DNA …
So everyone keeps telling me [about the gay following]. It’s something I’m totally comfortable with.