EastEnders goes four times weekly
The plan for a fourth, half-hour weekly episode is part of an extra £120 million investment in new, original drama on BBC ONE over the next two years, creating one of the biggest rafts of drama productions the channel has ever had.
The Controller of BBC ONE, Lorraine Heggessey, said today: "Viewers love EastEnders and this is part of our commitment to the loyalty of our audience, investing in the future of the programme and capitalising on its success. People have told us they’d like to see more of Albert Square, and we’ve responded to that.
"Investing in EastEnders and other new dramas means that we will not be commissioning as many new docusoaps as we have in recent years," she said.
Cast members welcomed today’s news. Barbara Windsor who plays Peggy Mitchell said: "I’m absolutely thrilled about it. We think it’s about time to add a fourth episode - and we get our weekends off too!"
Martin Kemp who plays Steve Owen said: "I think it’s a fantastic idea and I’m completely behind it. It will give us more time and space to produce an even better programme."
Tamzin Outhwaite who plays Melanie Healy said: "I’m in total support of EastEnders going four times a week. The demand is obviously there as over 20 million viewers watched one of the Christmas episodes. The demand is there, so let’s rise to the challenge."
Adam Woodyatt who plays Ian Beale said: "It will certainly be a challenge and I’m looking forward to it."
Natalie Cassidy who plays Sonia Jackson said: "I love this job more than anything and the more work I do the happier I am. I think everyone will be supportive of this and EastEnders will really pull it off. It will be hard work but very exciting."
Today’s EastEnders announcement is just one initiative in a slate of major dramas for 2001, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World starring Peter Falk and Matthew Rhys, shooting shortly in New Zealand; The Project, a contemporary film from Peter Kosminsky and Leigh Jackson, the team behind Warriors; Raffles, starring Nigel Havers, Michael French and Frances Barber; and William Ivory’s wartime romance, Night and Day, starring Christopher Plummer and Edward Woodward.
In a meeting with the EastEnders cast and production team today, Alan Yentob, Director of Drama, Entertainment and Children’s, Lorraine Heggessey and Mal Young, Controller of Continuing Drama, outlined their plans specifically for the BAFTA-award-winning show.
Alan Yentob, who talked to the cast with John Yorke, Executive Producer of EastEnders, said: "We’re investing an extra £95 million in programmes for BBC ONE this year alone. These ambitious plans for EastEnders are part of a commitment to a wide mix of drama for 2001 and beyond. It’s an exciting period, with a bigger slate of productions than we’ve ever had before."
Mal Young said: "We are excited about the prospect of an extra episode. This additional investment in our top drama will allow us to balance the workloads of our leading artists and at the same time create storylines and new characters, which will grip the nation.
"EastEnders is now the most talked-about drama on television. I’m delighted that the creative team behind the show, led by John Yorke, will be building on the show’s success, and exploring the potential of that extra half-hour of airtime. They are now working on storylines for the whole of the year."
While scheduling information about the extra episode is being kept under wraps until later in the year, Lorraine Heggessey confirmed that the omnibus edition will remain. "Viewers have told us that they enjoy catching up with events in Albert Square at the weekend, and we plan to retain an omnibus edition," she said.