EastEnders may have been missing its spark in 2013, but show boss Dominic Treadwell-Collins is a man determined to give the show a shot in the arm and reintroduce a much-needed edge.
“EastEnders is not a warm bath. It’s not a show that gives you a cuddle. It’s a feral, untamed animal,” the 36-year-old says at an event to launch this year’s Christmas episodes. “It’s the show that I wasn’t really allowed to watch when I was little and would sneak down to see in secret. It’s a naughty, angry show about life.”
A former story producer on the show, Treadwell-Collins returned in August as the new executive producer, taking over from Lorraine Newman, who resigned after 16 months in post. Following a ratings slump over the summer and a generally negative press, the soap’s new exec has sought to reinvigorate life in Walford by introducing Danny Dyer as new Queen Vic landlord Mick Carter this Christmas, as well as overseeing the return of Lacey Turner as Stacey Branning in early 2014.
But what of perceptions that EastEnders is the most miserable of all UK soap operas – is it a viewpoint that he recognises? “It’s not miserable, though life is difficult. And what EastEnders does is show that when life is difficult, you pick yourself up, brush yourself down, paint on a smile and keep going.
“And, actually, if EastEnders was all cuddly, warm and full of comedy hi-jinks, then nobody would watch it. So our aim is to give EastEnders its balls back. It’s about ordinary people living extraordinary lives.”
Treadwell-Collins obviously has high ambitions for future episodes and is quick to state that EastEnders “should and will be the best drama on the telly”. His aim is to concentrate on characters whose tribulations resonate with viewers and he doesn’t care if that means shying away from grand spectacle (“if you’re stuck for a story you blow things up…I’d let another soap win Most Spectacular Scene, if I’m honest”).
And when it comes to the destiny of those characters, he’s very matter of fact about their allocation of screen time. “I firmly believe that every character has to fight for their place on the show. I’ve said to the cast, ‘you will all play Hamlet and you will all play spear carrier number three. This is a company of actors, so one day you’re going to be delivering the big monologue and the next you’ll be asking for a packet of crisps’.
“Story-wise, we’ve planned the tent pegs between now and February, which is our 30th anniversary. I think the danger with any soap opera is to do cover versions of greatest hits. A lot of shows sometimes fall back upon that, but our aim is to sing new songs. We want gasps and to tell stories that shock and surprise the audience.”
And then he adds the kind of duff-duff cliffhanger line that you’d expect to see dramatically end an episode: “The message is that we’re fighting back.”