Coronation Street‘s incoming producer Iain MacLeod has pledged to deliver a balance of comedy, poignancy and high drama after taking control of Britain’s longest-running soap, inheriting the mantle from Kate Oates who left in June after just over two years in the role.
In his first full interview since stepping into her shoes, the ex-Emmerdale show runner points to this week’s upcoming epic episodes as encapsulating all the ingredients of classic Corrie, despite the fact they were produced towards the end of Oates’ eventful stewardship. “The show is at its best when there’s comedy, when it’s got low-key, heartbreaking poignant stuff, high drama and action-packed sequences. Next week’s episodes are a microcosm of what Corrie needs to be, and it’s all about balance.
“My background on Corrie is I like all the funny stuff, but when I worked here before in storylining I was involved with the tram crash, Tyrone’s domestic violence story and Carla’s rape. So my preferences are broad and I think that’s reflected in the audience. You can’t please people all of the time, but Corrie’s always been good at pleasing most of the people most of the time, so I’m hoping we can give everybody under my tenure a lot of what they like.”
MacLeod is full of praise for his predecessor, who he also succeeded as Emmerdale producer in early 2016 when she swapped the Dales for the cobbles for what proved to be a controversial two years – Oates was accused of darkening the Street’s tone with storylines such as Pat Phelan’s killing spree, but groundbreaking plots such as David Platt’s rape and the suicide of Aidan Connor were acclaimed by critics and fans and restored the show to awards glory, winning Best British Soap at this year’s Soap Awards for the first time in five years.
“Kate is a friend and extraordinarily talented. In her time here she told some massively socially important stories that changed people’s lives. I wouldn’t say her stories were too dark, Corrie has always been challenging – they dealt with suicide and sexual assault as far back as the 1960s and 70s. I’m the custodian of the DNA of the show and its tone, and don’t intend to do anything radically different.
“The key is to achieve a balance with the comedy which is the main thing I’m keen to do. My focus is to balance dark stuff with lighter material, blending comedy and character which is what people first fell in love with about Corrie – including myself.”
Maintaining a steady ship appears to be MacLeod’s mission, and he’s quick to reassure that there are no plans to wield the axe for a cast shake-up. “I don’t subscribe to the producer cull,” he says. “It’s not my style. I’m quite story-led so if characters do go it will be because the storyline dictates it. There’s no hit list, I won’t be packing loads of characters onto a bus that goes over a cliff! Our viewers spot how cynical things like that are.”
His contentment with the current ensemble also means we shouldn’t expect any high-profile returnees, unlike Oates who brought back a number of old faces to successful effect including Peter Barlow, Toyah Battersby and Carla Connor. “All my favourites are still in it, I don’t see any obvious potential returns at this point. It would’ve been fun to continue with a character like Pat Phelan for a bit longer, that would’ve been fun, but I appreciate how the story played out and it was a brilliant ending.”
One of MacLeod’s defining motifs at Emmerdale were the experimental episodes that broke with the traditional form, a risky move that paid off several times with memorable moments such as an entire instalment told from Ashley Thomas’s point of view while in the grip of dementia, Robert Sugden being stuck in a mix of Groundhog Day and A Christmas Carol, and a hard-hitting flashback to Cain Dingle’s tragic childhood. Does he envisage similar genre-bending exercises at Corrie?
“My gut feeling is it’s not the right place to do that. If Corrie wrote the original melody for soaps, it’s alright for other soaps to riff off that and go a bit jazzy, but as soon as the person playing the melody wanders off and goes weird, the whole ensemble falls to pieces.
“It’s a massively strange metaphor, but what I’m saying is we need to stay true to that DNA. We can still push boundaries and be challenging, but this isn’t the place for non-linear, hallucinatory excursions into a person’s mental inner landscape.
“Coronation Street needs to keep one foot on the ground and not deviate from the programme Tony Warren designed. So don’t expect too much weirdness.”
The new regime kicks in on screen just before Christmas, when MacLeod’s name starts to appear on the credits, so what can we expect from the festive season that launches the new era? “Doing the Angie and Den soap Christmas where it’s all acrimony and divorce papers and vitriol is not really my preference,” he laughs, “you need warm and light-hearted when you try to digest your stuffing balls and sprouts. Corrie’s Christmas will have some heartbreaking stories, some romance, some brilliant comedy around a school nativity – and a big shock at the end of it which will be a surprising payoff to what is on screen from next week.”
MacLeod is undoubtedly enthused about the role but is reluctant to divulge specifics in terms of specific storylines and character development at this stage, only confirming that 2019 will feature a plot that “broadly falls into the socially responsible storytelling bracket” and that something big is in store for teenager Amy Barlow.
“Corrie is character-led, and while I believe in the social responsibility of soaps I’d never prioritise that angle over what’s right for the character. I don’t pinpoint favourite characters and mould around them, I like to organically go where the stories are. I don’t mind who the stories are about as long as they’re engaging and keep me interested.”