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Producer's Perspective 2009: Lucy Allan

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Producer's Perspective 2009: Lucy Allan
After almost a year as Hollyoaks's leading lady, DS stopped by Lime Pictures in Liverpool - home of the Channel 4 soap - to catch up with series producer Lucy Allan for a candid chat, reflecting on her first 12 months as the soap's chief. What's been her favourite episode and scene of the year? What's not quite worked out as expected? And does Lucy believe that the show became too teen-centric over the summer months? Read on to find out the answer to those questions and more...

If you had to choose one, what's been your favourite storyline of the year?
"Definitely the Newt/Rae/Eli strand. The way in which we told that story was so Hollyoaks. I know there's been criticism that we've been too teen-focussed across the year but for me, that story held its own.

Which single episode stands out for you?
"I love the graduation episode. The students who we really care about were celebrating and there were culminations to various other stories in that ep, too. It had a lot of joy, which to me is very important to the show. So many little elements in that episode worked so well. There's also an ep before Christmas that sets the tone of the show for the next year - that was a challenge, but the results were so, so worth it..."

From the hundreds and hundreds of scenes, which one in particular sticks out in your mind?
"My favourite scene of the year has to be the underwater sequence with Newt, Rae, Eli and Jack the hero! It was a beautiful moment on screen and it was the moment that the audience realised that Newt was trying to kill himself. For me, that moment of realisation made that scene so powerful. I must have watched it about 40 times, but it gets me every time."

What's been your proudest moment this year?
"I have lots of proud moments. One in particular… I'd probably say it was when I received a phone call from one of the cast to tell me how much they were loving the scripts and how pleased they were that their character could have conversations with anyone else in the show. That was one of my objectives at the start of the year, to ensure that characters weren't locked into their own stories."

Have there been any storylines from the other soaps that you've envied?
"I don't watch the other soaps as much as I'd like to, mostly because I'm still here or at home watching Hollyoaks trying to do fine cuts! I've always been a fan of Corrie and the Tony/Maria/Liam story, for the time it's held - has been really well constructed. Yes it's big and sensationalist, but when soap does that well, it's great. I've also been catching Emmerdale of late and the transition and change in that show has been amazing. Gavin has done so well - credit where credit's due."

Which character has been your favourite addition to the cast? Why?
"There are two for me. Cheryl coming out of Later - she just puts so much energy and fun into the show. You haven't seen all that Bronagh [Waugh] has to offer as an actress. There's a range of drama and comedy and I remember scenes where she'll say something ridiculous and then break your heart with a look. The other actor who I'm really proud of - in terms of character and performance - is Alice Barlow as Rae. To introduce a character as somebody and then to completely change the character six weeks later, while still delivering the performances that Alice does, is a testament to a young actress."

What's been your biggest struggle this year?
"Soap comes with its struggles and every producer will tell you the same thing - budget, logistics etc. I think one of the things that I hadn't anticipated was the requirement of our characters to work across so many platforms in order to make sure that all of the storylines pertain to the 6.30pm show in the strongest possible way. I don't think we've failed to do it but I think I perhaps underestimated how complex a beast it was in terms of management."

The show has lost many strong characters over the past 18 months. Do you feel that characters have been adequately 'replaced'?
"I don't think nearly all the strong characters went. There are still great characters with us! Some characters are already there and some will be filtering through over the next 12 months. What would have been fatal to a show would have been to have said 'right, here are your new set of characters - take them and care about them' because everybody needs time to bed in and you need the audience to invest in a character. Characters like the bad boys and bitches - some [of our existing characters] are playing those roles, while we have other people coming in over the next few months who will fulfill those roles.

Why has Hollyoaks become so skewed towards teenagers this year? Was it a conscious decision?
"It depends how candid we are. One thing to say is that I think we're talking about a period across the summer and actually what's now appearing on screen, there is quite a big change in that - I don't think the teens are now dominating the way that they were across the summer. If we're being completely honest, Later took away a substantial number of my cast, so they were unavailable to me for three months. So for three months, I had to play with what I had. I do care about the teen stories and I do invest in them. I do recognise that it hasn't always been a success in terms of viewers, though - I absolutely take that on board.

"I think you'll find that there's much more of a mix driving forward. I'm categorically not saying that I won't play teen stories - because Hollyoaks is the show for those stories - but if I've learned one thing from this year, it's that the stories with the older characters have a very big place in the show, too.

"What's interesting as well is that the family unit doesn't exist quite the way it did within the show and that's certainly something we're looking at. A lot of the characters that viewers have grown up with have grown up. Those family units have changed. Perhaps that's a clue as to where we need to go in the future…"

Why are the older characters not in the title sequence?
"They're not my titles! The current titles were devised by my predecessor, so you'll have to take that up with him! The way they are, though, it doesn't really pertain to the older cast. Whether it's the right title sequence or not is another matter…"

Are you planning to change the titles?
"Who knows what we're doing with the titles… You'll have to wait and see…"

How do you feel about Bryan Kirkwood having joined EastEnders?
"It's amazing! Bonkers and brilliant. I absolutely wish him the best of luck - I'm made up for him. It'll be quite odd to see him at the British Soap Awards in a very different place!"

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