First of all, congratulations on Emmerdale's recent success at the Broadcast Awards! How did it feel to get that recognition?
"It was fantastic, especially because it's an award that's given by industry insiders and critics - people who know the business and the programmes very well. It's a real honour and very, very exciting that Emmerdale is getting that recognition, which it hasn't always had but we obviously feel it did deserve. It was really gratifying."
How are you planning to build on that success this year?
"I think what we've been doing very, very well is telling big, bold stories with great characters, so we'll be doing more of that. I think they'll be real stories - stories that are heightened, dramatic and quite extreme in some ways, but they all come back to very real, recognisable situations and emotions. I think that's very important to us - that we're not doing extraordinary or fantastical situations, or very rarefied situations of guns and gangsters. We're telling many stories about a fairly real community - how people interact, how they react to difficult circumstances and how they work together. So we'll really be building on that - big stories, great characters but keeping the emotions and motivations real."
Is Emmerdale's 'revamp' period now over, or is there still work to be done?
"I think it's constant. Every year in every show - with Corrie, EastEnders and everything - every year is a revamp year in a way. You can't stand still - you have to refresh constantly, so I don't think there's ever a period of revamp that ends. We had a good year last year, but this year we have to give the viewers something different again. We need to give them their familiar characters and familiar locations, the atmosphere and the community that they feel part of and enjoy watching, but we've got to give them some entirely new stories, scenarios and unexpected twists. The refresh and revamp is never-ending."
With regard to specific storylines, a big talking point among Emmerdale fans at the moment is Aaron and Jackson's story and talk of an assisted suicide. Can you tell us anything about that at the moment?
"It's difficult to say too much about it as we don't want to do a disservice to viewers by giving too much away, when there's still so much story to come. But there's definitely an enormous amount of drama on the way - there's still a long way for Aaron and Jackson to go, but it is going to get difficult and of course it's going to get more emotional, more dramatic and I think it's going to be a talking point for a long time to come."
"It's difficult in a way, because you think, 'Would he have been so popular if that hadn't happened? What would he be doing now and what would the relationship be?' I think what we've loved watching, and what I've really enjoyed watching, is the love story - Jackson attempting to set Aaron free, Aaron trying that but realising that he can't get beyond Jackson and that it's Jackson he wants to be with.
"We wouldn't have had any of that story if we hadn't have had the train crash. Jackson is not able-bodied and that reduces the things physically that he can do, but emotionally and mentally, Jackson is still a fantastic, wonderful character and we wouldn't be getting any of this story without the experience that he's gone through. Sometimes it's difficult situations that form characters and make us love them. I think a lot of the popularity comes from the two guys fighting this huge problem and overcoming it. So I suppose I disagree entirely that he's written into a corner, because I think he's a very effective character who's in the middle of a great story."
Things have been quite bleak for the Aaron and Jackson fans lately, so is there anything they can look forward to - perhaps some more heartwarming scenes?
"There is, yes - there's a long way to go. Obviously way before Aaron met Jackson, he was a bleak character and a very troubled teenager - which is probably why he's very popular, because just about all of us remember being troubled teenagers and trying to get on in life with all of the problems that it throws at you. So I don't think Aaron was ever going to be a happy, chirpy, jolly or funny character - it's just not him. Having said that, yes, there will be a lot more heartwarming stuff. We think that, over the months ahead, Aaron and Jackson's story will be a love story - it's about them together and inevitably, because it's a love story, there'll be a lot of stuff to enjoy and a lot of heartwarming stuff there."
"Absolutely - it's been everything we'd hoped for and more, because you can plan the stories, write the scripts and know exactly what you want to do, but it only ever comes alive with the actors and directors. I think that Jane Cox and Steve Halliwell have been so fantastic - and you can never quite predict those bits. That's the fun of TV, in a way - whatever you write and plan, you wait to see it on screen and suddenly it takes life. I think that Jane Cox has been absolutely outstanding. We always knew it was a good story, but we're still delighted by the way it's come to screen, the work that's been done and the way that people have reacted to it."
How long will this experience affect Lisa and Zak for?
"I think we always hope that our characters are a product of everything that's ever happened to them - Lisa will never forget this, so we never want to forget that she's been through this experience. Obviously she will live and grow beyond it and have a happy life beyond it, but it will affect both her and Zak quite seriously in the immediate future - over the next few months. It's going to take them a while to make this part of their lives and learn to live beyond it."
The decision to write out Viv Hope received quite a strong reaction from some fans. Can you tell us how that came about?
"It was very difficult to say goodbye to Deena, who's been such a key member of our close-knit team for so long. But unfortunately, it is part of that constant refreshing and revamping process - we need to bring in new characters and that means losing some older characters. The logic of not writing out even your biggest characters at times would mean that we'd still have the original cast on screen, and the show would be what it was when it first started.
"It wasn't an easy decision to make at all, but there was a feeling that we needed to move forward - we needed to really shake up the heart of the show and some of the 'givens'. With some of the things that people thought, 'That is absolutely Emmerdale and always will be', we thought we'd challenge that and change perceptions so that Emmerdale isn't exactly what you expect it to be when you turn it on. It was a decision that was taken after much deliberation and soul-searching."
"It's interesting, because we did think about it and there was some debate about what was best. We just wanted to tell a story from a slightly different angle - we'd seen, a lot of times on TV, the inside of a fire, the flames getting higher and characters coughing and choking and burning, which is not always that pleasant or entertaining to watch!
"But what we hadn't seen was almost the truth - what would you see if you were Bob or Brenda, the characters who were most affected? You'd be on the outside wondering what was going on, waiting and waiting before getting that terrible realisation that your loved one is not coming. So it was a dramatic choice to see it through Bob and Brenda's eyes - I liked it, I thought it was successful and I thought it was a good dramatic choice. I guess not everybody did, but not everybody likes everything, unfortunately. But I don't think it would have been any better to see Viv and Terry in awful and terrible pain as they burned to death!"
Are you pleased with the aftermath of the fire storyline?
"Yes, I think the measure of the story and its significance is the aftermath and what it leaves. We're still seeing a village that has been rocked by the fire and the absence of Viv and Terry. I think that the funeral and memorial service were very affecting, and through Brenda in particular, we're still feeling the absence of Viv and Terry. It's a story that might not have put a lot of Viv on screen in her final moments, but it's a story that meant Viv's departure had a lot of impact on the village and on the show, which is what we wanted. We wanted her exit to be felt by everybody, and I think it was."
"I'm absolutely delighted with where they are - it's fantastic. But of course, I don't think there's ever a time where we don't think we could do a little bit better. We've achieved our aims so now we'll set new aims and we'd like to grow that audience even further. And I do think that's possible - we know there's an enormous TV audience and that people still like traditional drama in a fairly traditional format. We know that people are liking Emmerdale and I think that we can continue to build our audience if we get the mix of characters and stories right."
Gavin Blyth, Emmerdale's late series producer, did tremendous work in revamping the show. Is there anything that you'd like to say about his legacy?
"I think that his period as series producer was an extraordinary time for the show, and that was very much due to Gavin's vision, energy and commitment. Every show ebbs and flows and has its high times and low times - you can't be on screen for so many years and not have that - but Gavin just brought a particular and peculiar energy to it and Emmerdale had never quite ridden so high before, even with its natural ebb and flow. Gavin brought something above and beyond and really took Emmerdale to new heights, and I think he showed people - both on the inside and viewers - that this show really could grow and be more than it had been before.
"It's gone from being firmly the third soap to snapping at the heels of the other big shows. I think Gavin brought something very, very unique as a producer in galvanising the energy of the show and taking it up a level. That was rewarded with the Broadcast Award, which was fantastic, and the TV Times Programme of the Year award in 2010 - some really high accolades for a show that was absolutely as good as it had ever been."
> Click here for Part 2 of our interview with Steve, containing loads more Emmerdale gossip!