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Gavin Blyth (Series Producer, 'Emmerdale')

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Gavin Blyth (Series Producer, 'Emmerdale')
Having swiftly assumed the chief producer's office at Emmerdale at the beginning of the year, former Coronation Street assistant producer Gavin Blyth quickly initiated a reinvention period of ITV's rural serial drama. Since taking the helm, Gavin secured new signings in the form of Kim Thomson, James Sutton, Kitty McGeever - UK soap's first blind actress - and next month looks to change the face of the show's farming dynasty with the five-strong Barton family. Here, DS chats to Gavin about his new outlook for the show, Emmerdale comedy, the weekly hour-long episode and what's to come from the locals.

What aims did you set out when you took the helm? How did you approach it?
"I really wanted to share my ambitions for the show and get the show back up there where it belongs with great scripts, great performances and great stories. I really want everyone to be proud of what we're doing and make it talked-about TV again. It's had some great moments in its history and we need to ensure we continue to have them in the future. Everything can’t be done overnight because it has to have longevity, so whatever we create for today has to be as relevant tomorrow. There's not a quick fix, we have to approach it carefully and always respect its history to move forward. Something I wanted to achieve was to take one step back and survey the show, because when Emmerdale's good, it's fantastic."

Did you have the infrastructure established when you arrived? Or have you changed the approach?
"Yeah, there's just absolute direction really. There have been changes. We have a new story editor on board in Stuart Blackburn - he came over and joined me from Coronation Street. We have some new storyliners and some new writers, too. So there have been changes in places - ones that I thought were the right ones to make in order to take the show forward."

What was the first thing you did when you took office?
"My arrival was all relatively short notice, so it was a case of getting to grips with the scale of the job in hand. Fortunately, a lot of people remembered me from when I was last here, which made it much easier. I re-familiarised myself from the off and then shared the vision of the show. That was a key thing because it's all very well having ideas about where you want the show to be in six to twelve months' time, but unless everyone else is on the same page, then it'll never be achieved. We sat down with all the various teams and shared our thoughts. Collectively, we decided where we wanted the show to go."

How is the reinvention going?
"There are so many things that need to be finessed at the same time… it all needs to work as one. It's an ongoing process, baby steps. The change is happening on screen already. It's about patience, though. It's looking good and I'd say to those watching it to stick with it. If I landed here with the biggest and most dramatic episode possible with nothing on the other side of it for the audience to carry on enjoying, it'd be futile. It's a slow-burn process, but it's coming."

Have you changed much?
"I've changed a lot in script and in some inherited story since I arrived to shape the show how I want to see it. Summer is when a bigger sense of what I'm about will be there. Ringing the changes for me is about the tone of the show, as opposed to making one big hit. It's about pushing characters back to the centre of the show that have perhaps strayed to the edges and who characters actually are - what do they want, who do they like/dislike, what do they fear? When I first arrived, that was the biggest thing I wanted to achieve."

There's been mention of something massive happening which would involve the whole village in October. Any hints as to what that might be?
"I honestly don't know where this has come from because it hasn't come from me! October will be hugely exiting and it's possibly because I used the word 'explosive' in a sentence. It wasn't literal, though. That was meant in storyline terms. I'm not going to flood the village! I read somewhere that I was meant to be doing that! It'd be great, don't get me wrong, but the main street is on a hill, so the water would only go one way! If you're looking for an event of that size in this day and age, there's not a lot that hasn't already been done. I'm always cautious that everything you do is diluted by how many times you do it. Death can easily be diluted by killing too many people in soap. People can stop caring unless you do it carefully and judiciously."

You mentioned recently that the Grim Reaper's on his way, too…
"Yeah, that was a comment when I was asked if there were any plans for anyone else to go. I mentioned the Grim Reaper because it's a soap and invariably he will be there. I said 12 months because in a soap, it's unlikely that someone's not going to die within that time frame. It wasn't a loaded warning, but I won't be afraid of change. I've come here to be brave and embrace the future of the show - and to make sure it has a future. So yes, characters will go en route, but it'll always be about the character and their story."

What's your take on delving into the history books? Are you a fan of bringing back old characters?
"Only if they're right and if they're as current now as they ever were. I think it's very easy to bring back a lot of past characters, but they have to be relevant. Jeff Hordley's back and obviously Emma Atkins is coming back and I think they're justified, current and have ties [with existing characters]. There's unfinished business, too. There are so many characters you could bring back to Emmerdale - Kim Tate, Zoe Tate… but you always have to stop and think. If Kim Tate's helicopter landed back in the village as she left, who would be relevant to her?"

Doesn't she still own Home Farm?
"Ahh… There's a conundrum. It's passed hands several times since and the lines have probably been blurred as to who holds the deeds. I wouldn't rule anything out, though. Kim's fantastic, as is Zoe. I wouldn't rule anything out. I won't be afraid to bring someone back if there's a story on the table which justifies a return. I wouldn't want to bring someone back for the sake of it."

What can you tell us about the new family, the Bartons?
"They're a traditional nuclear family! Yes! God forbid! I think that's a soap first! Stories with younger characters are only relevant if they have a family that they can affect. I don't want to make Emmerdale a show about teenagers and young people, it's about family values. The Bartons are sexy, modern and contemporary. They're almost happy - and in soapland that's quite strange!

"John's a very charismatic and modern farmer who's actually a success. He's not weighed down with the troubles of the land. He'll take farming forward in the show really - it's a modern business to him. It's not all about flat caps and tractors. He's content and exciting and is about more than farming. Moira's beautiful yet homely, and she'll take her place behind the bar in the Woolpack. She's not there to be a farmer's wife - she's independent and supportive of what her husband does. She'll kind of plough her own furrow, to use a farming expression. John and Moira are fairly young parents with the notion that they've been together since they were about 16/17.

"Then the three kids Holly, Adam and Hannah. The kids are great because there's ambition and acceptance of who they are and what they are. Even though they're quite close together in age, they're really different. The Bartons will go forward hand-in-hand with Andy, and it's definitely not the end of the Sugdens farming the land."

Can you give us any hints on how Charity will make her comeback?
"Yes - in dramatic fashion! Obviously I can't say too much - all I can say is the anticipation will be worth the wait. There's a lot of unfinished business, she's got a lot of baggage still. And Charity has Noah, too. Yes she still has him! She hasn't palmed him off just yet! So returning to the fold with Cain and with the Kings still around... It's going to be the Kings' worst nightmare - first there was Cain now there's Charity. How much more bad news can they have on their doorstep? I think we've pitched this one so well, I'm so excited! This one to me feels fresh, original, exciting and true to the characters.

"I think, like Cain, we've got to remember that Charity's been away for a long time. She will have developed in that time. Noah's grown up and she will have matured as well and we've got to remember that. You can't just bring back the [same] character who literally walked out. You can't bring them back four or five years on and be exactly the same because it wouldn't be true to life. Obviously that's only the start - she'll embroil herself in things she shouldn't and go where she shouldn't go. She's not been back on the game - that's one thing I can assure you! Things have changed, though, and that will be fairly evident in the early days..."

Are you making a conscious effort to lower the audience demographic?
"No, it's all about balance. What I don't want to do is say 'here are a load of young characters' because that's not what Emmerdale's about. We're about characters from different social standings across the entire gamut of age ranges. We're almost topping up each age bracket. Fundamentally, that won't change. There's no desire by me to take Emmerdale to a place where it doesn't belong. There are shows out there that are aimed at the younger audience and they do it fantastically well. For those younger members of our audience, we want something they can relate to, but by playing stories through the family, there's something the older demographic can relate to at the same time."

Emmerdale came in for some criticism last year for its overuse of comedy. Are you making a conscious effort to move away from comedy?
"I'm making a conscious effort to move away from the comedy that was. I'm not a fan of sitcom-style comedy. I don't want to apologise for that - it's not what soap's about. Some people enjoy it, some don't. Characters to can be funny and witty, yes. Characters who can make you smile and chortle to yourself a little, great. I like humour as do most people, but I like humour that's based on characters we have as opposed to set up, forced humour. That style of humour doesn't belong comfortably in soap for me. I want humour that's born out of the character as opposed to humour that's forced upon them. So yes, there will be a very deliberate effort to move away from the humour that's been there in the past in flashes."

What's the latest on filming in HD?
"It's not strictly my call. The tests have been done and we've proved that we're capable of doing it. It'll always be dependent on the call from ITV. Obviously the sets have to be right because the higher quality picks up the blemishes and can make a set look like a set unless we're careful. We're ready to embrace HD as and when we're asked to."

Any plans for Emmerdale to get a later repeat on ITV2?
"I don't know the answer to that. It falls outside my remit. For me, though, the possibility of there being another chance for the audience to see Emmerdale is great."

What's your take on the weekly hour-long episodes? Do you think it stretches the show?
"I've tried to balance this out. To me, every other night is just as important as the hour. The hour episode has to deliver because we're asking people to invest an hour of their time to watch a soap, which is fairly unusual. I try to ensure that it delivers and that it's not entirely based on one storyline. Otherwise there's the potential to put all our eggs in one basket and the rest of the week could feel linear."

> Click here to read more teasers from Gavin about the residents of Emmerdale in Soap Scoop Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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