The 35th-Anniversary of Neighbours was everything fans hoped it would be.
Whilst the late-night episodes featured all the drama and action, the regular day episodes were all about weddings, warmth and nostalgia.
And the big anniversary episode itself, that featured many a call back to yesteryear, was penned by Shane Isheev- a fan long before he was a writer.
With the cast and crew currently on a production break, we’ve been chatting to Shane about what it was like to write such a milestone episode- and what the show has meant to him over the years, and he even dropped a big hint on some Sharma/Rebecchi drama…
You’ve been a fan of the show long before writing for it, tell me about your personal history with Neighbours. Is there an era you look back on more fondly than others?
One of my earliest childhood memories is watching Charlene and Madge on my Nan’s TV. I was hooked from the get-go and have been a loyal viewer ever since. The show means a great deal to me. It’s been a constant comfort in my life – helping me escape tough times growing up. Little did I know, all that watching would be training for the job I have today. My impressionable brain soaked everything up. I have quite a good memory, so my encyclopedic knowledge of the show’s history has served me well now that I’m part of the team.
My favourite era would have to be 2001 to 2005. From Madge’s death (I’m still crying) to the ‘Izzy Years’, it was a wonderful period. There were some great characters and stories, mostly thanks to Luke Devenish and Ben Michael. And I’m not just saying that because years later, Luke would be integral in helping get my foot in the door at Nunawading.
Do you remember the first line of dialogue you wrote for the main show and who it was for? What was that feeling like of penning your first Neighbours script?
My first line of dialogue wasn’t for an episode I wrote. One of my earliest roles was to write amendments to scenes that were about to be filmed. In this episode, Karl is giving Susan a birthday present. He hands her a gift bag, stating ‘it’s a little something for the blue box’. Susan peeks inside, then exclaims ‘Little?!’ It was a small cheeky moment, but I was excited when it went to air.
Writing my first full episode was surreal and overwhelming. I’m still pinching myself, to be honest. Looking back, I wish I had been more relaxed. I put a lot of pressure on myself because not only was I achieving a lifelong dream, but that episode centred around Sarah Beaumont. My twelve-year-old self was screaming with delight. I’ll be forever grateful to then Script Producer Stephen Vagg for giving me that first opportunity.
When it came time to write that 35th-Anniversary episode, what were the main things you wanted to get in them from a nostalgic point of view and was there anything that didn’t make the cut?
I had one goal – for it to be a love letter to the fans. It was important the entire anniversary week honour everything that has made Neighbours iconic… Weddings… Cricket… Popstars… Romance… Comedy… The opening credits.
There were some easter egg ideas that didn’t come to fruition, but thankfully most of them made the cut. The week was jam-packed with story, so we couldn’t include everything. I did have my heart set on Lucy number one and Lucy number two being guests at Lucy number three’s wedding. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. I originally envisioned the scene where Shane and Yashvi play cricket on the street to end with Yashvi accidentally hitting the ball through number 24’s window. We also ‘bounced’ around ideas on how we could use Clancy to pay homage to Bouncer’s dream. It’s probably a good thing that one didn’t make it… Maybe for the 40th?
What other characters would you love to see back for a future storyline? Is there a writer’s room wish list?
There’s definitely a wish list and we’re slowly but surely working our way through it. I think you’d be surprised how often we talk about bringing people back. Jason is excellent in ensuring any return fits organically with current storylines and characters. The timing must be right. I have been guilty of pitching someone’s return just for the sake of it. Sam Fitzgerald’s recent comeback is a great example of this being the best time to see her again. Personally, there is someone I’m desperate to bring back and have them become romantically involved with one of our favourites. Fingers crossed!
Is it sometimes difficult writing for a show that you are such a fan of? For instance, have there been storylines or character moments you haven’t agreed with, but have had to distance yourself a little to get a script done?
Because I’m now part of the process, I have a better understanding as to why certain decisions are made and the reality of what it takes to get Neighbours produced. It’s also made me much more forgiving when thinking about past grievances I had as a fan during certain eras. And not only with Neighbours, but other shows too. I think any fandom should let things play out as intended first, before being up in arms. Finn moving onto the street last year caused some backlash. But we knew the pay-off would be worth it. People who were upset by it are now applauding the story because they see the merit. In the words of Prue Wallace – ‘trust in the process’.
The one thing I know wholeheartedly, whether you agree or not with certain stories/decisions – it’s all coming from the same place. Everyone wants Neighbours to be the best it can possibly be. The challenge is it’s such a broad show. Everyone loves it for different reasons. Getting the right balance can be tricky, especially when what’s considered the right balance is constantly evolving.
Say it’s your last day, and you’re told you can take one thing from the set, old or new, home with you – what do you grab?
That’s easy… The Ramsay Street sign! My home office is full of merchandise we have been gifted for special occasions. The street sign would be the icing on the cake for my collection.
Neighbours is well known for its cheerful opening credits and we know that you recently stumbled upon some unused ones from over the years. What are the chances of fans getting to see one?
My understanding is they can’t be shared publicly for legal reasons, but never say never. As a proud Neighbours nerd, it was like finding buried treasure when the digital team showed me. There’s a version involving Dahl that needs to be seen to be believed. And what was originally planned for the 2010 credits was rather impressive, but would’ve been too hard to update with cast changes.
You have to self-isolate with one Neighbours character past or present. Who do you choose and why?
I went back and forth thinking about this. There are too many good options but I’ve settled on Aaron. You may as well self-isolate with someone who can keep you fit, make you laugh, be theatrical and provide some eye candy. Sheila and Terese would be a close second and third.
And finally, what can you tell us of what’s to come as Neighbours enters this post-Finn era?
The climax to Finn’s reign of terror was huge and there will be ramifications for months to come. Our anniversary week may be over, but it’s still our anniversary year. There are many exciting things in the pipeline, including more blasts from the past. There are some amazing new characters and expect more iconic moments from the Kennedys. But the family to keep your eye on are the Sharma-Rebecchis… That’s all I’ll say.