The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Saturday, April 20, 2013

McLeod’s Daughters: An Australian TV Soap Opera

            Courtesy of Netflix streaming video, my wife and I have recently gotten hooked on an Australian TV soap opera, popular from 2001-2009 (224 episodes in all), called “McLeod’s Daughters”.   It has all the elements of the best telenovelas I watched while I was trying to train my ear to understand conversational Spanish spoken rapidly, as native speakers do, before one of my trips to Uruguay, Argentina, or Chile.  It’s corny, it’s hard to understand Aussie slang, and it’s overly dramatic in spots, but it’s well enough written to root for the characters and is set in a fascinating rural locale, the South Australian outback.  It was apparently the most popular TV show in Australia for several years of its long running history.  We’re currently up to episode #132, so we seem to be truly hooked, and we're into 2006, which means there’s substantial cast turnover going on as characters reached the end of their cheap contracts or just became bored with their roles.  As a writer I find myself analyzing what makes this show work and are there lessons here for me and other would-be mystery novelists on how to reach out to a larger audience? 
            I looked up the actors and actresses on IMDB and Wiki.  In a country as small as Australia, and with a sprinkling of talent from New Zealand thrown in, the cast is a Who’s Who of 30 year old regional actors with training and talent and of pop music stars crossing over.   Pretty much all of them won Australian Emmy awards, Logies, for their roles in this series.  Most of them went to acting school or played roles in other Nine Network series shows together at one time or another so everybody obviously knew everybody else in the cast.  Maybe that’s why they all seem to get along so well on the telly, if not in actuality.  A couple of the cast members came to the USA after the show ended its run to make their fortune.  Matt Passmore and Rachael Carpani, the actress playing Jodi, have starred (Matt)and guested (Rachael) in “The Glades” on USA Network for the past 4 years.  This is another quirky TV series, still in production I believe, that I recommend highly.  Rachael Carpani now has a new series, "Against the Wall", on Lifetime network so both seem to be making this transition successfully.

            Last night we watched a couple of episodes built around the McLeod's character called “Stevie”, a single mother trying to explain to her now 15 year old daughter why she left her to be raised by a married older sister.  Very much a chick flick episode or two but nicely done overall.  According to IMDB, Simone Jade McKinnon, the actress playing Stevie, had become a major star on Australian TV playing in the local version of “Baywatch” before coming to “McLeod’s Daughters”.  Did I mention that the series portrays a group of attractive women making their way pretty successfully in a male dominated society on a sheep and cattle ranch?  The guys are cute, too.   So are the dogs and alpacas.
             So what should we learn from “McLeod’s Daughters” as aspiring authors of a hit series?   Let’s see:
  1. Make your ensemble cast from interesting characters so the watcher/reader cares what happens to them.
  2. Have a plot, no matter how clichéd and well used, that makes the reader want to turn to the next page to know what is going to happen.
  3. Have everything take place in an interesting local setting.
  4. A little eye candy doesn’t hurt on a visual medium.

Stay tuned for more about this series in later blog posts.  Available from Netflix by streaming video, and some of the episodes at least are also directly downloadable free from the Internet.

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