Neighbours

Neighbours boss Jason Herbison addresses finale mysteries in big interview

It’s fair to say that Neighbours’ nostalgic finale episode was a huge hit. The Australian soap pulled in its highest ratings in years – on both sides of the world – for the last ever visit to Ramsay Street.

With fans still continuing to discuss the show’s emotional conclusion, Insertions.us put some questions to executive producer Jason Herbison – who penned the finale – to hear the inside scoop.

Read on for all the behind-the-scenes gossip:

You’ve spoken in the past about how you had a vision for the finale quite early on. Can you tell us which bits were there in your mind straight away, and which bits developed over time?

“I always had the vision of the very end. The joyous street party, Susan’s voiceover, the characters no longer with us, the balloon, the original theme song and the message to audience. I knew I wanted to have everyone on the street for these final moments.

“The other elements developed at different times. As I’ve said, I wanted the finale to be a celebration of the past and the present. I wanted to ensure the big four all had a major storyline – Susan, Karl, Paul and Toadie. I wanted the stories to provide natural opportunities for other characters to appear, which of course the wedding did.

“I also wanted a threat to the street without repeating the old ‘a developer is taking over’ story. By everyone moving and leaving the Kennedys behind, I knew I had my emotional anchor and I was able to bookend the hour with Susan. I wanted to tug at the heartstrings as much as I could.

“I also had other things I wanted to squeeze in, such as a goodbye tour of the houses and a good old fashioned Ramsay Street squabble. Everything fell into place and a few things went to God for time or production reasons, too.”

Presumably, the final episode would have been quite different if Guy Pearce hadn’t agreed to return. Did you have a Plan A, B, C etc in case certain people didn’t come back? Or did you just hold off writing the script until the last minute when you knew definitively who’d return?

“I stopped the plot room for five weeks while I tried to figure out all the moving parts. I left it as long as possible and then alongside the wonderful [script producer] Shane Isheev and [story consultant] Sarah Mayberry, plotted the remaining two weeks. It was a really beautiful few days, us three superfans together.

“By then, we had locked all the major names. That said, after plotting the penultimate episodes, I peeled off to do the finale. I had way too much story so I kept having to double back and revise the earlier episodes.

“I over-edited the last four blocks which I hadn’t done for years, which allowed me to cut things that were no longer important or plant things that would help set up the end. It was a wonderful effort from everyone in the team.

“Guy was brilliant. We had a shape for the story, which of course involved revisiting Mike and “plain” Jane. But he brought so much more to it. It was his idea that Mike turn out to be Sam’s father, which we all felt was one of the most touching elements of the finale.”

How much back and forth was there with Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan in terms of what they’d be doing? Channel 5’s Greg Barnett mentioned in his recent Insertions.us interview that they didn’t want to overshadow the long-serving cast. Did you think this was for the best, or would you have secretly wanted them to have more scenes?

“They were both amazing. Absolutely correct – they didn’t want to overshadow everyone else. There was one day where they could be in Melbourne together and they cleared their schedules to make it happen.

“I hadn’t even written the finale at that point, so I could only vaguely tell them how their scenes would fit in. It was a classy and respectful move on their behalf. It didn’t matter to me how much dialogue they had. It was just so special that they wanted to be a part of it and to say thank you.

“It was a very happy day when I was able to tell Greg they were on the street. He has been a massive supporter over the years and I loved delivering such special news.”

Susan’s moving monologue, delivered perfectly by Jackie Woodburne, has arguably had the biggest reaction. Can you tell us about the thought process behind having Susan close off the show in that way?

“Susan is the heart of Ramsay Street so it was always in my mind to close the show with her. How could I end the show without letting Jackie give us one more performance of a lifetime?

“It was actually the easiest part of the script to write. I just thought about how I felt about the show and put it into Susan’s voice. I have to give huge props to director Scott Major and our production designer Peta Lawson for bringing it all to life.

“I remember telling them about the balloon and they looked at me like I was slightly crazy – but everyone supported the vision and made it happen.”

Was the nod to Tom Oliver (Lou Carpenter) on Terese’s letter an acknowledgement that he was someone you would have ideally wanted to have in the finale?

“We have nothing but love for Tom at Neighbours. I called him personally and invited him back for the finale. We had a lovely chat but I understood he’s at a different stage of life now. We made sure to include him in the flashbacks, the final photo montage and as you note, the envelope reference.”

Was there anyone else you really wanted back but couldn’t make it happen?

“I would love to have brought many, many more people back. I was inundated with requests, including some I only heard about later. However, it just wasn’t possible to include everyone.

“COVID also played a huge part in our plans. Unlike in the UK, we still have strict 7 day isolation rules, which included close contacts at the time of filming. We were lucky not to lose key cast but we had to replace many crew. This put a huge strain on the production so I had to be careful how many cast I added.

“Right up until a couple of days before I was still adding and seeing how far I could go. I also wanted a white Labrador to run through the street – but I realised it was too much to ask! It’s a huge testament to the incredible crew that we got everything shot.

“This also feels like a good time to give props to my producing team, Andrew Thompson, Katja Bäuerle and Chris Donis, and all my heads of department. There were so many moving parts but the team held it together.

“The work didn’t end when the cameras stopped rolling – there was so much to do afterward. Andrew and I have been rattling around the building these last few weeks, he’s the unsung hero of Neighbours… an absolute rock to me.”

In classic soap style, some things were left as a mystery – notably Amy’s ‘donor’. Viewers are debating whether it might have been Joel or Lance. Did you always want to leave a few loose ends like this?

“Absolutely. I wanted to resolve most questions, or at least leave them in a satisfying place. I didn’t want people to feel short changed. However, I felt we should include a small mystery or two. I loved the way Jacinta performed that. For the record, I don’t know the answer!”

On a similar note, Clive received a call from Sheila earlier in the week and mentioned in the finale that he was going to LA. Are we to assume these two things are connected?

“There was more dialogue in Clive’s final scene that we had to cut for time. He explained to Mike and Jane that he was going to see Sheila in LA. Not to reconcile, but to try to understand his previous relationships better. Just as Jane had been re-evaluating her past, he was off on a voyage of discovery to do the same thing.”

Did you ever consider an ending where everybody genuinely left Ramsay Street, or was it always the intention to lead us up the garden path and have everyone stay at the last minute?

“I never considered everyone moving away. However, as the stories began to wind down, I realised nearly everyone had a natural reason to be moving on. I loved the idea of Karl and Susan walking out their door and seeing all the for-sale signs.

“Admittedly it happened very quickly and it’s the perfect example of trying to balance story ambition with time. I originally envisaged a few more twists and turns to get everyone in the selling spirit, including the Rodwells. David’s recent conviction was another area we didn’t have time to explore.

“In the end we landed where we did, which I think still worked. Actually I saw it as a little Easter Egg in itself. It’s not the first time in Neighbours characters have packed up their lives and left in a hurry! I bargained on the audience going with it and I think they did.”

Fans seemed split over Paul and Terese in the final months. There were dedicated shippers who wanted them back together, and other fans who felt Terese deserved better after the way Paul had treated her. Are you glad you reunited them at the end? Do you think Paul would have changed after having this second chance?

“I totally understand the mixed feedback. In a perfect world we would have taken longer to reunite them. But with Paul, I think it’s a case of better the devil you know.

“Terese hasn’t always walked a straight line and they are each other’s equal. I’m glad I reunited them and I don’t think Paul will ever change. But as Terese wrote on her note, she accepts that. That doesn’t mean she won’t end up ripping up the note!”

You’ve set tongues wagging by confirming the unseen 15 minutes from both finale edits. Were there more returnees and video messages that we didn’t get to see? Is there anything else you can tease about the missing scenes?

“Big episodes often run over time and this one was no exception. There was a lot of little trims on the floor but they don’t make a huge difference to the final story.

“I scripted about a page of dialogue for each video returnee, so obviously there’s a lot unused, but we did see everyone.

“There was also material we didn’t end up filming because we ran out of time. For example, I’d love to reinstate a package of the street being set up for the party in record time!”

We’ve heard a lot in recent months about plans for the show if it had continued – including big plans for the Rodwells, Byron being a regular, Nicolette’s father arriving, a huge season finale episode, and possible exits for some of the big characters like David and Mackenzie.

Are there any other stories you’re disappointed you didn’t get a chance to tell?

“Neighbours has never been more healthy or vibrant, in my incredibly biased opinion. So there’s a lot of stories that we could have done. The examples you mentioned were on our horizon and we had other thoughts for down the track. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to tell the stories we did tell.”

Do you think the buzz, high ratings and media coverage from the last week proves there’s still life in the Neighbours brand and provides hope for the future? Or do we just need to move on?

“We’ve always said we are resting the show so anything is possible. I don’t want anyone to move on from the love they have for the show. I hope the fan communities continue and people continue to discuss the past characters and storylines.

“Ramsay Street is eternal and I meant what I said in Susan’s monologue. We need to keep celebrating it, including those who have watched us from afar…”

Neighbours has now come to an end, but catch-up episodes are available via My 5 (UK) and 10 Play (Australia).