For 172 days back in 1989, American TV executive Bob Shanks was brought in to save the Australian Ten network. In May 1989, it was reported the TV series 'E Street' was taken off air for "a 2 week break from filming while the show is revamped. This move, for which Bob (pronounced Barb) Shanks was solely responsible, will involve amendments to the script to modify the central characters."
Bob Shanks wrote the 1976 book, 'The Cool Fire - How to Make It in Television' and had previously worked at the American Broadcasting Company. Reviewer Chris Meissner made the observation, "It is fascinating to read now (in 2008) to see the nature of the advice Shanks gives and more so in the different areas of television industry operations he covers. Remember, this was a time when the 3 broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) were at the peak of their power and influence and reigned nearly unchallenged in their purchase on the attention of American audiences.
"Shanks mentions several times in the book that for a TV series to survive cancellation it needs to post ratings of at least a 30 share - ratings that even the top programs today would kill for! Interesting too is Shanks' take on how to navigate the network bureaucracies in order to get programs sold, and he offers several examples from his own career. Equally interesting, because they are the most obsolete, are the chapters on the production process and on technical issues related to TV production.
"Shanks takes the reader step by step through the TV production process. Detailed descriptions of TV equipment in all phases of production are provided, even to the extent of suggesting which models of cameras, etc., are the best. The result, as with the book in general, resembles that of a prehistoric insect trapped in amber: a look at how the TV industry operated at a very specific moment in time, available for us now to examine and utilize in understanding American television history."
'E Street' (originally shown on Australian television between 1989 and 1993) was Australia's answer to Great Britain's 'Coronation Street' and "filmed in the workers and basket weavers' republic of Balmain." Producer Bruce Best told Robin Oliver of 'Fairfax Media', "We think we've got the working-class stories right, but the actual locale and characters are just slightly romanticized.
"The reality is that exterior scenes are shot in Balmain and Rozelle, while a church in Newtown is used as Bob Brown's headquarters. This is harbour side life in a working-class suburb. We are not shooting the (Harbour) Bridge, the Opera House, the glitz. We are shooting the working class end, the container berths, tug boats rather than yachts. In fact we are going to a lot of trouble to leave yachts out."
Channel Ten ran 'E Street' as 2 one-hour shows usually on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7.30pm. It was reported, "Soaps screened before 8.30pm need to handle some subjects carefully because of their younger audience. But script writers have invented ways around censorship, depending on how a scene is directed." According to publicist Brian Walsh, the one-hour twice weekly drama costed channel Ten some $150,000 to produce.
Amruta Slee reported in 1989 the 'E Street' producers and script writers would meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the offices at North Ryde to discuss the storylines. It was mentioned from 1990 'E Street' production was relocated to Videopak studios in Frenchs Forest while channel Ten moved other productions to the Broadcom's Ultimo offices. Forrest Redlich made known, "We're always asked where we get our ideas from. That's a hard one. They come from everywhere – newspapers, surveys, everything."
After watching the revamped episodes, Barbara Hooks made the comment in 1989, "I tuned into 'E Street', in which Mr Shanks is now taking a personal hand. While 'E Street' did tend to focus more on its regular characters, there was no less doom and gloom in the storylines. The social issue-information component of the program could might have been written by a better class of agony aunt. Some audience gains have been made, but there is a way to go before this drama finds itself on easy street."
Before the revamp, Robin Oliver remarked, "Is life in Balmain and Newtown, where ‘E Street’ is filmed, always so distressing? This series has a prime need to entertain. The issues it raises are frequently made unreal by the script treatment. Misery upon misery. 'E Street' must quickly learn to let some light in on the gloom. 'E Street' now needs more than names like Penny Cook and Peta Toppano if it is to survive."
From the outset, Forrest Redlich maintained, "We are pushing 7.30 as much as we can. We are trying to be as adult as we can be. You've got to be very careful that the audience doesn't become depressed or disenchanted in any way. There has to be warmth in the characters - and hope. I think that's very important. You can't leave your audience 'down' at the end of the period. That's another 'A Country Practice' lesson. No matter how serious the story, you lift it at the end. Rather than do 70 scenes an hour, we do 30 big scenes."
Bruce Best added, "We must also pick up that middle audience. And that includes the older end of that audience. They are vital to our success. All the characters are designed to overlap. They are not what I call kid-cult characters. We will still deal with social issues."
Featuring Chelsea Brown as Abby, Simon Baker and Kate Raison, 'E Street' reached the height of its popularity with the 'Mr Bad' storyline, winning the TV Week Logie Award for Most Popular Series in 1992. As one commentator observed, "Power games turn into mind games as 'Mr Bad' and Sheridan have visions of each other and conversations inside one another's head. Sheridan is able to see everything that 'Mr Bad' is doing or about to do." 'Mr Bad' painted his face half black and half silver and often was seen practicing Tai Chi.