It has been part of the staple British soap diet for more than 30 years and provided a launchpad into the pop industry for some of its biggest stars. But the TV show that put Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan on the road to fame could be axed from our screens.
Neighbours, the popular Australian import, was moved from a primetime slot on BBC1 to Channel 5 in 2008 – but now the residents of Ramsay Street could leave altogether amid reports that discussions to renegotiate a deal between producers and the show’s UK broadcaster have stalled.
“The renegotiation of the Neighbours Channel 5 deal has become very fraught and is in jeopardy,” a source told the Sunday People.
The source said Channel 5 was keen to keep the show, but added: “The failure to reach a deal is being blamed on Channel 5’s new American owners Viacom for refusing to sign off on the figures and not understanding the cultural importance of the show in the UK. Neighbours has become a British TV favourite and it would be a sad day if it were to go.”
The soap is famous for having more fans in Britain than Australia, where it holds the accolade of longest-running drama series, and has been shown in the UK since 1986, providing viewers with a daily slice of antipodean life from the fictional suburb of Erinsborough.
In the early days Neighbours was shown twice daily in the morning and at lunchtime, but the BBC’s then controller Michael Grade moved it to a 5.35pm slot on the advice of his daughter who said she and her friends kept missing it due to being at school.
The show, produced by FremantleMedia, quickly grew in popularity and the episode featuring the marriage of Scott Robinson (Jason Donovan) and Charlene Mitchell (Kylie Minogue) drew an audience of 20 million in 1988.
The ballad they walked down the aisle to, Suddenly by Angry Anderson, reached No 3 in the UK singles charts while the Kylie and Jason duet Especially for You hit No 1.
The pair, who were catapulted from girl and boy next door to wider fame after leaving Neighbours to pursue their individual pop careers, were the first in a string of actors to venture into music or film after a stint on Ramsay Street.
Actor Guy Pearce and singer Natalie Imbruglia were also among those who capitalised on the soap’s heyday, when audiences peaked at 21 million in 1990.
Nearly 20 years on, the Melbourne-based show – which counts among its greatest moments Harold Bishop’s return from the dead and Jarrod “Toadfish” Rebecchi’s post-wedding catastrophe in which he drove his new wife off a cliff – was attracting an average of 3 million viewers, yet remained the highest-rating daytime programme in the UK apart from news bulletins.
The Neighbours fanbasemay have declined, but there was still a backlash on Twitter as rumour of its potential demise spread. A Change.org petition launched to encourage Channel 5 and Fremantle to keep the show going had been signed by more than 4,000 people by late Sunday night.
Channel 5 told the Guardian: “We don’t comment on commercial contracts.”