20160501

RETURN TO EDEN

When the $3 million Hanna Barbera Australia and McElroy & McElroy production of 'Return To Eden' went on air in Australia in September 1983, the 6-hour mini-series "struck a nerve with many Australian viewers." According to AGB McNair ratings, 'Return To Eden' peaked at 41 points in Sydney and 48 points in Melbourne. When 'Return To Eden' was shown in Great Britain in September 1984, it attracted "a whopping 42 in the U.K. ratings." In its review, 'The Guardian' remarked, "This was Australians at their favorite sports: swimming, sailing, jumping women, and raping the English language." 

'Return To Eden' was also shown in the U.S. in September 1984 in the cities of Portland in Oregon, Salt Lake City in Utah and San Francisco and reportedly "won its ratings time slot in all 3 cities." American Karen Arthur directed 'Return To Eden' based on the screenplay devised and written by Michael Laurence. Music composed and conducted by Brian May and Dean Semler was the director of photography. 

By 1986, 'Return To Eden' had been seen in over 30 countries (including Italy, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Malta, Monaco, Panama and Ecuador) by some 300 million viewers. The success of the mini-series led to the weekly TV series, costed some $8 million to make. In all, 22 episodes were produced with the final episode ending in a cliff-hanger. 

Filming of the TV series started around April 1985 in Sydney. In Australia, 'Return To Eden', the series, went on air in 1986. Prior to its Australian screening, 'Return To Eden' was  pre-sold to Britain and gone to air in September 1985 in some 30 major U.S. cities. Daniel Abineri made the point to Paul Mann, "You've got to hand it to the producers for pulling it all together. It was a major TV series, a big gamble and at least they've satisfied the overseas market. I knew when I was signed for 'Return To Eden' that I couldn't muck it up because it was going to be seen all around the world." 

Set 7 years after the mini-series, some $2 million of the budgeted $8 million went to 10 different large sets (including a replica of a suite in the Sydney Regent Hotel) designed by Larry Eastwood, imported cars (such as the Rolls-Royce) and designer clothes (from Pierre Cardin to Carla Zampatti to George Gross). Rebecca Gilling played one of Australia's richest women, running a mining empire and fashion and beauty company and living in the waterfront property called "Eden". 

Producer Tim Sanders told Prue MacSween of 'TV Week', "The whole thrust of the show is very much Australian. Ours is a totally original idea that developed here locally. The only similarities (with American productions) that one would draw are the common denominators of wealth, glamor, power, big business - the ones that are implicit to the story. 

"When we set this up it was as a new series, not as just a sequel to the mini-series. It was very much planned in its own right and we consider it to be unique because it didn't follow any previous patterns of other series here. Where the others (such as 'Sons and Daughters', 'A Country Practice', 'Possession', 'Prisoner', 'Prime Time', 'Neighbours') shoot 2 hours a week on their budgets, we were inclined to shoot 30 minutes a week. 

"Elements like music, with the whole show originally scored by Brian May, and the wardrobe and sets all had priority and we spent a lot of money on them. We bought our own luxury cars so we didn't have taxi arrivals or obvious hire cars ... the whole thing was conceptually geared to produce what audiences would expect from a world such as this. It will stand on its own as a high quality series in Australia." 

Hal and Jim McElroy reportedly leased "2 large warehouses in the backlot of an industrial estate in the Sydney suburb of Five Dock for 5 years (1985-90) and transformed the site into the studio complex where much of the series was shot. The elaborate sets and most of the furnishings used in the series were built from scratch. Everything was designed and built at the Five Dock complex. The premises also house the production offices and construction areas in a space reminiscent of a Hollywood backlot from bygone days." After 'Return To Eden' wrapped near Christmas 1985, the Five Dock complex provided facilities for other McElroy productions or space for hire to other producers. 

Hal McElroy was matter-of-fact, speaking to 'Cinema Papers', "People watch television not to be educated, not to be informed, but to be entertained and as a soporific. We have to accept that as an industry. What we set out to do was make unabashed, prime time entertainment. We are not talking prestige television. With a mini-series, like 'The Dismissal' or 'Threads', you can say, 'Just for this week, stop everything and have your life changed'. Over 22 weeks, you can't change people's lives."

Some 6 directors reportedly shot episodes out of sequence (for example episodes 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 were filmed before episode 2) with "an episode in 7 days," Hal made known. "We need 6 minutes of finished screen time a day, which is nearly 3 times as fast as a feature." Tim Sanders maintained, "We can't do things in feature-film style, though we strive, as far as we can, for a level of excellence in look and style.

"But, we find that if we drop a scene, change, rewrite or add one, it's part of the daily process. No one has a heart attack and runs screaming from the room. They say 'Oh well, that's what happens with series-making'. You're never going to hit the mark 100%, every single minute of the day, for 32 weeks (from April 29 to Christmas). On a feature, if you drop a shot, it can be catastrophic for the call sheets and schedules. Everyone runs around looking to kill someone."

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