What's your overall vision for Hollyoaks?
"I said publicly I thought it was a bit serious and it seemed some stories were taking too long, while others were over in a blink. This happens on all the soaps every couple of years or so. You just need to stop and say: 'What is this programme? Who is it for? And how does it work?' My conversations have really been about where Hollyoaks will be in five years' time as much as where it is now and in six months' time, so it was very much about rediscovering the USP.
"If you came from America, you'd look at Corrie, Emmerdale and EastEnders and say they are essentially the same format with different accents, whereas Hollyoaks is different. It's very focused in terms of its target demographic and I think it ought to be focused in the way it tells stories. It was about working out what a Hollyoaks story is, as opposed to an EastEnders story. I did think there were some stories in Hollyoaks that could have played in EastEnders quite comfortably.
"By October/November on screen, it's much more focused on the point of view of the younger characters. It doesn't mean we won't play the older characters but it's telling stories that are about rites of passage, about discovering things for the first time and that are essentially about working out who you are, as opposed to being defined by your parents or teachers or background."
What particular decisions have you had to make to bring the show closer to your vision?
"Well, for example, the story we're about to tell with Tony which will start on screen quite soon really redefines Tony as one of the older characters, which I know Nick [Pickard] is very comfortable with. I don't know if he's 35 yet but he's not 16 anymore and there's only so many daft Tony stories you can do. He's so key to the show and so able and adept he will have a raft of new stories to play in a new context. By the autumn, we'll feel we're seeing Tony in a different context."
In a recent interview, you were quoted as saying that Hollyoaks needs more comedy. A lot of the fans think the opposite - what's your take on this?
"What I'm after is balance. I think sometimes it's a bit too daft and sometimes it's a bit too dark. We have some very big serious storylines coming up. When I say it got too dark, that was to do with the pace of the storytelling. By dark I mean grim. I walked into the building and we were playing a multiple sclerosis story and that played out in a week of episodes where there was nothing light, so it didn't feel like Hollyoaks.
"The key thing to say to viewers is, when I say comedy in Hollyoaks, I mean character comedy, not practical jokes or props. Some of the comedy has been a bit daft - not all of it - but it doesn't float my boat. I love Hollyoaks when it's character comedy. When you're laughing because of what Carmel's doing and you know Carmel really well or you can see what's happening because you know the characters really well. That's why we're bringing Lee Hunter back. The stuff we've storylined for Lee is not daft - it's funny because it's him."
What was the one thing you knew needed to change with the show when you took over?
"I think my biggest concern was the pace of storytelling. Probably people on Digital Spy will be more interested in this than other people but there's a technical thing on Hollyoaks because we shoot single-camera, so our access to the cast is really limited. It's a bit dull but I've had to learn how to tell stories Hollyoaks-style. So whereas if you were doing Corrie or a similar show, you might build up to an event over six or eight weeks - you just can't do that on Hollyoaks.
"Actually what I'm finding is this will be the soap, by the end of this year, where lots of things happen all the time. It's not about build-up - it's about fall-out. Fall-out is more interesting than build-up, I think. But by September or October I don't think there will be a dull week of Hollyoaks. We don't have the cast to play a whole week with the same four characters across all five episodes doing the same thing - we just can't do that and that's something I've discovered."
Will you be revamping the credits?
Can you tell us about that?
"As it's not signed off, no! I have a meeting about it tomorrow. Conceptually what they will be is an organic development of what we've got but they will look and feel quite different. That's as hot as you can have it though because I don't know. We've got two pitches tomorrow."
Will you be rescoring the theme?
Will you be keeping the opening sequences?
"They're going to change quite a lot. What you won't see anymore is our actors out of character. They won't be playing newsreaders or characters from Oklahoma or whatever. I think the serious point is that we have to compete for the audience's attention, so our stories have got to be bold, our characters have got to be strong and our writing's got to be great. I need people to get to know Cheryl as Cheryl rather than Bronagh playing a newsreader - I don't think it helps.
"We will have opening sequences but their job will be [if you missed the episode before] to give you a strong flavour of what stories we're telling. That's what they were originally meant to be. We call them menus here so it's a menu of tonight's episode. In wedding week, for example, the opening menu scenes are flashbacks of the episode before."
So will they be recaps or previews?
"It depends [on the stories] - in wedding week the episodes are continuous and there's a lot going on. It won't feel very different because they're still very stylish and they've still got music over them, so to be quite honest with you it's horses for courses and depends what story we're telling. If you're in the middle of something really serious and meaty I'm not going to have a daft menu sequence."
Some viewers think Hollyoaks uses too many commercial tracks per episode. What are your thoughts?
"I think the way Hollyoaks uses music is another reason why it's different. Sometimes people get hung up on the music or the intro scenes because they don't like the stories. My job is to make the stories so good you're not sitting there thinking, 'Hmm, there's too much music!'"
Lots of characters are leaving - will there be any major disaster? Or will they all just fall by the wayside?
"There is going to be something later in the year. It's not what people expect - we're not going to kill 15 characters in one go. We've got a really strong autumn coming up. There's big fun stuff in September which takes Steph Waring out for a while, which Channel 4 love and are going to promote. Then September/October, we've got the Later which will be absolutely terrific. Then after the Later, something terrible happens to Hollyoaks Village but that will be as much about the storytelling as the disaster itself. To be absolutely frank, I'm storylining that today so quite how it will pan out I'm not sure but it's not what people expect."
Do you have anything special lined up for the show's 15th anniversary? Will there be a tie-in with the third Later?
"Nope. We think it's much more fun to celebrate Hollyoaks being 16 next year. Sweet 16 is a much more Hollyoaks sort of thing. And everybody's had an anniversary this year! Surely the audience are bored?"
What do you have planned for Hollyoaks Later v3.0?
"It's quite different from the previous two as in it flows out of and back into the 6.30pm shows. We're writing the scripts now because we shoot it quite early, so we're well ahead with it. You can watch the 6.30pm shows and now watch Later and that will be fine or watch Later and not watch the 6.30pm shows. But for the full surround-sound 3D experience, you need to watch it all."
Will Later be shooting in HD?
Will it have a big stunt like all other years?
"We won't have a stunt that's as big as last year - I don't know how you would top that parachute jump, it was brilliant - but we have different stuff going on through the week and we do have an action sequence at the end which I think will be really cool and different. The big thing about Later this year is that it all takes place over one night. It's very exciting."
What made you take on the burden of another show alongside the main 6.30pm edition?
"I didn't even think about it, it just seemed to be really obvious. Obviously I'm a megalomaniac and a glutton for punishment! I think what it was, was that I really want [Later and the main show] to work together. I'll be bringing a producer in to run Later for me but the editorial stuff is done - it's all storylined - and I haven't died! Maybe I'm used to it. I used to exec on The Bill, Family Affairs and Murder Investigation Team at the same time so it didn't seem that bad to me."
Will you be using the older characters a little more?
"To some extent - they won't get [main storylines] - it's not about them, but I didn't see any reason why they shouldn't be really interesting and good fun."
Ever since Hollyoaks began, anyone over 35 is usually just the parent of a character and there for support purposes. Will that change?
"I think the thing about Myra is that actually her kids are quite old. I think she's great and she's got good stuff coming up with Theresa, which makes sense but does Jacqui really need Myra? Whereas with the Costellos coming in, the kids are younger and actually part of their reason for arriving is to do with the kids so it feels really easy to involve them from the off. Also they're glamorous and have a story which is the dad being worried about the kids finding something out. It'll change from that point of view. You might see more of Myra when we bring in the new McQueen, though."
We've heard the new McQueen is called Bart...
"Yes, his name is Bart McQueen - he's obviously named after Bart Simpson..."
Where does he come from? Does Myra have another sister?
"Oh, he's some sort of cousin! They basically go to the wrong funeral and then they go to the right funeral and end up coming back with him - it is funny."
Do you intend to continue casting more 'known' and high-profile actors?
"No-one's been cast for being high-profile. Casting Sheree Murphy, it was day one and they said: 'We have to cast this today'. They showed me a DVD of six perfectly good actresses, one of whom was Sheree Murphy who I recognised and said, 'Let's have her'. It's as simple as that - I've watched Emmerdale and I know what Sheree can do. It's a safe pair of hands and because it's her, originally she was coming in and it was quite [a small role] but it gets bigger and bigger and funnier. She turns into the mother from hell.
"Then people like Paul Opacic who is playing Carl Costello was the best by about a million miles when he read, then Kim Tiddy - I just had to have Kim Tiddy! I cast Kim in The Bill - she's actually here today. She was stranded in Thailand for a week. I started by saying, 'We could have Kim Tiddy but maybe she's a bit too young?' Then we saw lots of actresses and thought, 'No, let's have Kim Tiddy'. She's great. The writers are really excited about her."
Will you be creating more sets? Filming more on location?
"Well, we have new sets appearing but that's over the course of the next year. Hollyoaks is basically built as real, so you can't turn it around over a weekend. In terms of shooting more on location, we will - to some extent - where it really works. There's so much on site now. Ten years ago, there was Brookside and Hollyoaks here but now there's just Hollyoaks. It's all about how we use the space."
Playing devil's advocate… If you were at Hollyoaks before Christmas, would you have gone ahead with the flashforward?
"If you'd asked me that on January 6, I would have said no. It was facing me like a huge cliff to climb, but it's really worked. I've seen it and I'm really pleased with it."
> Loads of 'Hollyoaks' gossip from Paul Marquess
Additional reporting by Philippa Warr.