Walford Gazette: A Chat With New Executive Producer Louise Berridge

A Chat With New Executive Producer Louise Berridge

By Larry Jaffee

You’ve been on the job a little more than two months.
Has it turned out the way you envisioned?

Not at all. It’s been great, but on my very first
day we went into a major crisis with an actor being
ill, which meant we had to rewrite 53 scripts,
including the one we were shooting that day.

That’s part of the buzz of EastEnders. They’re
real people [who work here]. They get sick. They have
real problems. They have real lives. You just have to
react to it constantly. It’s not like you make a
carefully laid five-year plan for the show and that’s
what you follow. The cast behaved superbly. They all
pulled together. You know, the show must go on. The
cameras never stopped filming. Everybody had to work
overtime—the writers, the script editors. Actors had
to cancel their holidays. They had to pull in people
who weren’t scheduled and change their stories on the
spot. It worked out fantastically, but it did make for
a very exciting start. And the audience never noticed
the difference. I’m really proud of that.
You were back there in 1994 and 1995. How have things

It had just gone to three episodes a week. I
started as script editor and became story editor. The
first big story that I did was ‘Sharongate.’ Now we
have four episodes a week. It’s almost just too much
for one script editor to cope with comfortably. It’s
too much for one writer to write all four episodes.
It’s pushed everything just beyond the breaking point,
so we’ve had to add far more personnel than we’ve ever
had to before. When we were doing three episodes we
could do it, only shooting five days aweek with only
one team shooting. That made life really easy in terms
of scheduling.

But four episodes means that sometimes we need to
use Saturdays, and people must work six-day weeks,
which makes them very tired. It also means that four
days a week we have two teams shooting simultaneously,
and that means we’re all fighting over the same sets,
the same actors.

So we have to be really clever how we construct
the scripts, so we don’t have characters talking to
each other who are in different stories. It can be
done, but it’s much harder.

It seems like when a new executive producer comes in,
a large family follows: the Taverniers, the Jacksons,
the di Marcos, the Slaters. What’s in store?

We’re checking each character to see if this one
is getting a bit tired. Are we short of people?
We’re looking at every character to see where we need
new energy coming in. Over the next two years I think
a lot of new people will come in. It’s not focused on
one specific family. There are a lot of areas where we
can have some fresh blood.
What was it like to be back after being away for so

I’m looking at Natalie Cassidy, who plays Sonia.
I knew her when she was a child. I watched her grow

Do you ever dream about EastEnders characters?

Frequently. It happened in ’94-’95, and it took
some months before I stopped doing it. But I’d been
back here a week and it started again. Oh boy, there
goes the rest of my life.

This interview will be continued in the next Walford

Walford Gazette: BBC America Moves EE to Saturdays

BBC America Moves EE to Saturdays

By Larry Jaffee

BETHESDA, MD—Bowing to pressure from viewers, BBC
America has scheduled EastEnders on Saturdays at 1
p.m. (ET), effective Sept. 7, instead of the
inconvenient Fridays at 3 p.m. that took effect on
Aug. 9.

In July, BBC America announced that it was
dropping EastEnders from its weekly Sunday slot at 11
a.m. (ET), in favour of the home improvement shows
Changing Rooms and Ground Force, which are among BBC
America’s highest-rated shows.

In a statement released Aug. 9, BBC America
stated that it has “listened to the many fans who have
contacted us and asked for a weekend airing of
EastEnders. We cannot reinstate the Sunday airing of
EastEnders because the show’s ratings have been
extremely disappointing.”

While the BBC has given EastEnders fans something
of a reprieve, the decision came with a warning:

“Nobody will be more delighted than us if EastEnders
proves a success in its new time slot. However, we
must make it clear that we will be reviewing the
situation next year and if the show fails to perform
on Saturdays it will be discontinued.”

In July, BBC America said cancelling EastEnders
on Sundays was part of its “overall changes” to the
fall schedule. “We want to assure you that we are
listening to you, but BBC America has to compete in a
commercial environment where ratings and resulting
advertising must be a consideration. Without it we
could not exist.”

BBC America urged viewers to send it comments
about the move, and apparently the letters were read
and considered by its head of programming and other
senior executives, as the channel had promised.

When asked by the Walford Gazette whether the
Sunday episodes generated higher ratings than those on
Friday, a BBC America spokesman declined to provide
the actualfigures, other than to say that they were
“broadly similar.”

He added that EastEnders on Sundays was “losing
audience” from the Ground Force lead-in.

“We hope that people use their VCRs to record,”
he said, “if they’re not around to watch Friday
afternoons.” I pointed out to him that most
ratings-conscious broadcasters are aware that people
who tape programmes usually fast forward through the
commercials, and broadcasters generally hate such
time-shifting because their advertisers are ignored,
thus killing the sole source of revenue for commercial

(On a personal note, I found myself unable to
record EastEnders on Aug. 9 while I was at work
because I could not find the remote controls to either
of my VCRs, which can only be programmed that way. Had
BBC America not come up with the Saturday solution, I
would have had to buy another VCR, which otherwise
wasn’t needed.)

Audience feedback is among the factors the
network uses in making such a programming decision,
the BBC America spokesman told me in July. He said it
was not necessarily a specific number of complaints
from upset fans that would result in a decision

“We realize EastEnders has a loyal audience… .
They all have got to perform,” he said, in language
not dissimilar to that used by public television
stations that have dropped or threatened to drop
EastEnders from their programming line-ups because of
decreasing financial contributions from viewers.

I suggested to the BBC America spokesman that
perhaps EastEnders would have better ratings if it was
promoted on-air during other timeslots. His response
was that BBC America promotes programmes that show
signs that they have the best chances of doing well.

For EastEnders to succeed in its new time slot, I
urge BBC America to start promoting it during the
commercial breaks of other shows, as it does with its
wall-to-wall promo blitzes of Manchild, Ground Force
and So Graham Norton. Otherwise, next year we’re
going to be in the same situation.

These latest moves come just about a year after
BBC America stopped airing EastEnders on a weekday
daily basis in favour of the Friday and Sunday blocks
as a means to gain larger audience, especially on
weekends. At that point, BBC America also cancelled
its EastEnders: The Early Years episodes.

Last year’s explanation: “We are aware that
EastEnders is one of our more watched programmes,
which is why, after hearing from a vast number of our
viewers that the weekday airing was not convenient for
those who work, we decided to rethink our schedule. A
weekend airing of all of the episodes allows a larger
number of our viewers to tune in or record the entire
week’s events and with an extra episode being added
later this year, the weekend slot allows for more

Purely speculation on my part, but I wonder
whether the Sunday cancellation, and the further
threat of cancellation if it doesn’t “perform” on
Saturdays, are a ruse to get fans to eventually pay
for the show.

A November 2001 press release announced a new
video-on-demand (VOD) service to be launched in early
2002 by BBC America. Obviously, that has not happened
yet. The VOD services would allow U.S. viewers to see
EastEnders when the U.K. sees it, instead of two weeks
later, as on BBC America.

The BBC America spokesman said the time change
and on-demand service are two completely separate
matters. The service hadn’t been launched yet because
the cable operators were not ready for such an
advanced digital system, but there’s still a plan to
introduce such a service, although no timetable for
its launch.

EastEnders was the only BBC programme to be
initially selected for testing this new service.

“We know that EastEnders has many avid fans in
the U.S. who are keen to watch the show as soon as
possible,” said Paul Lee, BBC America’s chief
operating officer, in the November 2001 announcement.

A question that forever perplexes me is how
EastEnders can be the most popular programme in
Britain (scheduled four nights a week in prime time,
with all four episodes reprised on Sunday afternoons),
but get marginalized on this side of the Atlantic.

Despite appreciative audiences in such remote
North American outposts as Fargo, North Dakota, as
well as major cities like New York, Philadelphia and
Miami via public television, EastEnders does not get
any kind of priority push from the BBC’s commercial

Maybe I’m naïve, but I think that great
television drama, particularly from the U.K., will
find an audience if viewers know that it’s on. Let’s
hope that some enlightened powers-that-be will figure
that out.

Write to Paul Lee, BBC America, 7475 Wisconsin Avenue, 11th floor, Bethesda, MD 20814.



Diehard readers of the Walford Gazette might remember an interview I
did a few years ago with then EastEnders producer Jo Ward, who talked
about how at the time the series recently introduced the Walford tube
station, and in particular, trains that ran across an overpass.

“At the moment we’re still getting letters like ‘We’re avid
trainspotters. Can you tell us which train goes across because we
can’t find it on any of our timetables.’ I have to tell them that the
train is graphically reproduced through a computer. We don have
expansion on the lot and are building a tube station.”

To which I replied, “But it won’t connect to London.” Without
missing a beat, Jo quipped: Well theoretically it won’t.”

Since then, even we public TV viewers stateside have seen it
occasionally used as an external set (e.g., Sonya Jackson busking on
her trumpet comes to mind), As a frequent visitor to London, as well
as someone who had the privilege several times to tour the BBC set in
Borehamwood (no, Walford is not a real place), I can tell you
firsthand that it looks fairly authentic.

But what really threw me a few months ago while watching an
episode was the brief glimpse of a tube station map that had actually
placed Walford East on an East London route. Luckily I had my 35mm
camera handy-so here’s the proof (upper right).

-Larry Jaffee

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Walford Gazette: EastEnders: A Literary Tribute

EastEnders: A Literary Tribute

By Lise Alper

ENGLEWOOD, CO-EastEnders has been a part of my life for over 10
years. In many ways, it has been the closest thing to stability I’ve
known through many turbulent times.

I’ve known the Fowler family, the Butchers and the Beales longer
than anyone else I currently relate with. Personally, I’ve changed in
so many ways that most TV shows I enjoyed back in the late 1980s now
leave me scratching my head. Yet EastEnders remains a beloved

To someone unfamiliar with EastEnders, it may sound as if I’m
one of those dotty old ladies who lives and dies by the latest
connubial confrontation of “Erica Kane” (of General Hospital). No, I
don’t set the table for my “friends” before I watch EastEnders;
neither do I talk back to the screen to warn them about backstabbers
or evil twins. EastEnders isn’t that sort of show, which is why it’s
withstood the test of time.

As an avid reader, it seems to me that EastEnders is more akin
to Dickens than Days of Our Lives. When I hear the familiar theme
song, I’m not expecting a fast-paced or glamorous 40 minutes. Rather,
it’s a window into a world I had only heard about prior to
discovering EastEnders in 1989. The people who populate Albert Square
are the modern-day descendants of the people in Great Expectations or
David Copperfield. The first time I saw June Brown as Dot Cotton, I
couldn’t believe my eyes! I had never seen anyone remotely like her
on film before! But I had seen her many times in my mind’s eye while
reading a novel from the 19th century.

The daily grind, the trials and tribulations of the residents of
Walford are the same as those of the lower middle-class the world
over. Except in rare instances the storylines are character driven
rather than event driven. Mark Fowler is a perfect example. Almost
every storyline involving his character is based upon his ongoing
desire to live a normal family life, without allowing his HIV status
to destroy his quality of life. Everything that happens to him, such
as confronting Nick Cotton, stems from the simple need to be
paterfamilias of the Fowlers.

But no matter how high the standard of writing might generally
be (there have been some exceptions), it’s the actors who inhabit
these characters that really deserve mention. Although Todd Carty is
actually the second actor to play Mark Fowler, it’s his presence that
has brought this character to the forefront. The previous actor
ensured that Mark was more often talked about than seen. And even
though Susan Tully has gone on to larger horizons, her portrayal of
Mark’s sister Michelle is still talked about amongst fans of
EastEnders. June Brown’s appearance has been mentioned but not her
consummate skill as an actress. Not only does she make nosey,
righteous and gossiping Dot a lovable person, she has allowed the
character to grow with her troubles over the life of the show. Dot
Cotton has mellowed and become compassionate with old age which are
words that would never have been associated with her in 1987!

The original matriarch of EastEnders, Pauline Fowler, has also
changed with age but in a much different direction. As played by
Wendy Richard, Pauline initially was a harried but loving Mum, always
ready to take in a stray or feed yet another mouth on a strained
budget. Yet the Pauline of 2001 has become a tired, bitter widow who
never sees the bright side of anything.

This is absolutely in keeping with the events of her life, thru
Arthur’s various brushes with the law, Michelle’s illegitimate
children, Mark’s illness and Martin’s waywardness. She often seems so
tired of life it’s no wonder that currently she’s played as Dot’s
contemporary when Dot is actually Pauline’ mother’s (Lou’s) age!

Finally I must mention the continuing authenticity of Albert
Square itself. I have never seen a flat in the East End of London in
person, nor a 2-up 2-down, but I have no doubt they look just like
the interiors of EastEnders. When the series started, in 1985, the
Fowlers didn’t even have an indoor loo! They had to go out to the
shed in the garden to use the W.C.!

The Queen Vic hasn’t changed much, through all her various
landlords, and though the yuppies have been making inroads for years,
it seems as if they join the Square instead of Walford joining them.

Yes, although I often feel as if the BBC is doing all it can to
get me to stop watching EastEnders, I continue a loyal viewer and
proud of it! Keep up the good work, cast and crew of EastEnders!
There are some Yanks who do understand!

Lise Alper updates the Cast List up to date and accurate at the
Walford Web website

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