For gossip on what's in store as the BBC medical drama enters a new era, Digital Spy recently chatted to Holby City's series producer Simon Harper. Here we present part one of our two-part interview.
What were your aims when you took over as Holby City's series producer this year?
"The first thing to point out is that I don't want to fix something that isn't broken! While I'm new to the role of series producer, I have worked on the show for seven years and was part of all the brilliant things that my predecessors did. They achieved amazing things with the show, consolidating those eternal core Holby values of fantastic characters and having strong, high-stakes surgical medicine at the spine of every episode. None of that is going to change.
"While it is a time of change for the show, it's not like I've come in and thrown out a raft of characters. I took on the role of series producer at a time where a number of actors had decided to leave, so that's the reason for a lot of the changes and why we've now got a lot of new and exciting characters starting.
"One thing that I'm particularly interested in is responding very specifically to what the audience want. When I first took over, I was lucky enough to have access to some market research which the controller of BBC One had authorised to get audience feedback.
"The word 'spice' kept coming up in that feedback - there seemed to be a great desire for excitement, relationships, and big, scandalous juicy stories, still combined of course with strong, medical, professional stories. We're going to have a lot of fun and respond to that clearly-articulated audience desire for spice."
Which stories and characters are you most excited about for the next few months?
"I'm really excited about the arrival of John Michie's character Guy Self, who is the new CEO of the hospital. He comes on tomorrow and really shakes things up. I absolutely loved Guy Henry's magnificent character Hanssen, but Guy Self is completely different. He's a man of appetite, he's a man who has relationships, and he's hot-blooded. While Hanssen was cold, remote and strange, Guy is a character who goes back to basics and is prepared to get his hands dirty.
"I'm glad that we'll soon be seeing Ric doing more, as we've got some very juicy storylines lined up for him. Again, that's in direct response to the audience who tell me that they love Ric, as do we all.
"Without wanting to give too much away, Ric is one half of Holby City's next on-location standalone episode, where we get to learn more about his past, why he's never been able to be happily married and why his personal life is so dysfunctional. We've also got an explosive storyline for him next year, but I can't divulge it at the moment.
"I'm also really looking forward to seeing a new side to Zosia. So far she's been very much in control and is very alpha for a junior doctor, but we're going to learn that there's more complexity and vulnerability behind the polished exterior. Let's just say that with the arrival of the new faces at the hospital, Zosia's world is going to be well and truly rocked and we'll see that her driven nature is a family trait.
"We're going to see Sacha in a new light too. Without Chrissie around, we'll be exploring him much more in his own right and we'll see a more steely side to him with a new role in the hospital. Next year he'll be at the centre of what I think is one of the most ambitious storylines that Holby City has ever done…"
What can we expect from the other new faces who are joining?
"I'm so sad to see some of the old faces leaving, but it's also really exciting to see the new characters start and bring in a new energy. I'm loving Colette Sheward who joins us next week. Louise Delamere who's playing the role is just fantastic. Colette is a really high-status nurse manager who fights the corner of her team. She is also very funny and has a lot of acerbic witty one-liners, so the writers are really enjoying writing for her.
"Joe McFadden's character Raf di Lucca is a highly-driven and passionate character. He comes onto AAU as the new trauma registrar and he gets into a great dynamic with Harry where there's a lot of point-scoring and rivalry going on.
"I'm really excited to see Dominic coming back as a regular. That was my first act as series producer and this was in direct response for this audience desire for spice. Who better to shake up Holby with his wicked ways? He comes back apparently as a reformed character, but as you can imagine, that doesn't last for long and he hasn't forgotten that it was Arthur who got him thrown out the last time.
"We've also got Mo's little sister Adele joining us, who's our first healthcare assistant regular character. Petra Letang who plays Adele is a joy. The character is funny, sassy and streetwise and it's a delight to have Mo's naughty little sister working at the hospital. While Mo loves her sister, she isn't altogether pleased to have her at work!"
When we asked for reader questions, we were flooded with questions about Jac and Jonny. Are you aware of their popularity? What's coming up for them?
"I'm fully aware of how much the viewers love the 'Janny' dynamic. They seem to really fascinate the audience and I love them as well. Jac's pregnancy is obviously very traumatic, because nobody knows what the outcome of it will be. This provides Jac and Jonny with great obstacles in their relationship, but it also brings them together a lot. They're going through a journey together and it's making them question how they feel about each other, but we also have the complication of Bonnie in the mix now as Jonny is dating her.
"I can promise that it all gets complicated. As to whether Jac and Jonny end up facing their challenges either separately or together, that I cannot answer - you'll just have to keep watching."
We also had a lot of questions from fans who think Jac has suffered enough! Could she have some happier times on the way?
"I absolutely agree with the fans that I would put a limit on the amount that Jac suffers. What I would say is that on Holby City we take the consistency, complexity and the integrity of the characterisation very seriously.
"I feel very strongly, as does Rosie Marcel who plays her, that Jac is so screwed-up and dysfunctional that she could never truly be happy. She's ultimately only ever happy when she has a scalpel in her hand. I think if Jac finally became happy she would have to leave Holby City, and I certainly don't want that to happen. I'm sure the fans don't either."
Is it true that Jac and Jonny will be in the next standalone episode?
"Yes, as the fans will know, we always have a standalone episode around the Christmas and New Year period. I've now produced three standalones - and in many ways this upcoming one is my favourite. The Holby half of the standalone is centred around Jac and Jonny's storyline and let's just say that there's going to be an emotional rollercoaster for these two beloved characters. Rosie Marcel is always fantastic, but in this episode she does some of the best acting work that I've ever seen her do. She is truly splendid in it.
"The location half of the episode is the story where we really delve into Ric's past, as I mentioned earlier. The episode also allows us to see a rather delightful new side to Serena…"
Are there any plans to change the hospital departments featured in the show?
"We won't alter the format of the show and it will continue to take place on Darwin, Keller and AAU. But what's very exciting is that in Guy Self, we have a CEO who is our first regular neurosurgeon. At least during my time with the show, it's the first time that we've had regular neurosurgery stories. That really injects something new into the show. Brain surgery is the most high risk, dangerous and emotionally-charged surgery you can deal with, so it makes guest stories that much more powerful and emotive.
"I think Holby City is often seen as a programme where the guest stories aren't quite as important as on the other medical shows. It's true that they don't take up the same airspace as they do on Casualty as viewers are so invested in the serial element, but I think the audience are also really keen to see the weekly self-contained guest stories which can be enjoyed on their own terms. We'll be ramping those up a bit too."
Holby City favourite Connie Beauchamp will be joining Casualty in the New Year. Will this be referenced in Holby and is there potential for any crossover appearances?
"We will absolutely be referencing Connie's arrival to Casualty in Holby City.
"For the time being, Jac has got her own more intense issues to deal with, but we should remember that she was pleased to see Connie go as she was the alpha female surgeon in the building. I don't think Jac will be pleased to see her sniffing around the hospital.
"I'd also love to see Connie come over to Holby City for the occasional episode. I have a personal desire to see her clash with Serena. There are no firm plans at the moment but I'd love to see it happen."
Are you planning more crossovers with Holby and Casualty characters paying visits to their sister show?
"Absolutely. Oliver Kent is executive producer of both shows and he has previously series produced them both, too. You really feel his equal passion for the two programmes. As we're sister shows, there's a sense at the moment that we should be collaborating at all opportunities. There's nothing definite at the moment, but we're having a meeting in Cardiff in December to discuss a couple of possible opportunities for crossovers."
Check back on Wednesday (November 27) for part two of our interview with Simon, which features more gossip on what's in store for a number of characters.
> Read more 'Holby City' spoilers and news
Holby City airs on Tuesdays at 8pm on BBC One.
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