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The Age

Cold Feet steps south

Author: BRIAN COURTIS
Date: 26/04/2001
Words: 1102
          Publication: The Age
Section: Green Guide
Page: 32
EXPECT the unexpected. Anyone who remembers how the pregnant Rachel took a train and chuffed out of town and Adam's life at the end of the first series of Cold Feet knows by now this is the way Mike Bullen thinks.

She didn't know the father. He didn't know whether he wanted the child. We knew he would drag her on to the railway platform and put us out of our agony with a loving embrace. Only the writer refused to let that happen.

``But it was down to my wife that it finally made it to screen," Bullen recalls. ``I'm really proud of that now because at one point I was the only person who wanted it that way. And I was under huge pressure to provide a happy ending, to get her off the train and get them together.

``That was exactly what everyone was waiting for. I knew that if she left instead then it would just be that much more powerful. We had so many arguments with people over that moment. Anyway, it just wasn't working on the page and we were getting so close to shooting that I said to my wife that maybe they were right. She actually said no. She thought that this was what Rachel would feel and that is why we should absolutely go for it. It was her resolve that steadied me and encouraged me to have another go at it.

``And then it was absolutely to the credit of Jimmy Nesbitt (who plays Adam), his acting. There's one shot of him where he's just watching her go and, God, the pain is so clear to see in his face that even now that makes me well up inside."

Bullen's Cold Feet, the story of three couples in their 30s, has just begun its third series here on Channel Seven. It has somewhat lazily been tagged a British blend of Friends and This Life, but in effect has really helped establish that somewhat bewildering genre of television, comedy drama. It craftily breaks up the romantic pain, the agonies of coupling and having or not having children, and the daily hazards of domestic life, with often-surreal dabs of humor and sometimes tragicomic touches. As when Adam, suffering testicular cancer, has his nightmare of being chased down the street by a huge bouncing ball.

Sometimes it's simply plaintive drama, as when we catch the hurt of Rachel (Helen Baxendale) following the abortion, or as in watching Pete (John Thomson) being hurled out of his Men Behaving Badly world into the sorry reality of that crumbling relationship with wife Jenny (Fay Ripley).

``You know the line that the Alan Alda character had in Woody Allen's film Crimes And Misdemeanors ... that if it bends it's comedy, if it breaks it's tragedy?" Bullen asks. ``Well, I think that's absolutely true. And what I like to do is to see if you can really bend it, really bend it until breaking point, and people are still laughing. Then, suddenly, it can snap, like when Pete's dad died, and that's where you have the greatest effect on the audience. They really sit up and take notice."

Cold Feet was only former radio producer and presenter Bullen's second TV script. Although that pilot episode won Europe's top TV award, the Golden Rose of Montreux, there was initially some reluctance by Britain's ITV to take the unconventional program any further. But the Manchester-based company Granada encouraged Bullen to go ahead with what soon became one of its ``blue chip" hit series.

``It changed quite a bit," he says. ``What I wanted was to look at a relationship from the different perspectives of men and women. To get the male and female take. But it actually proved quite difficult because you actually had to repeat scenes. So that evolved into the Cold Feet style of flashbacks. She discusses it with her friend and then we come out of her flashback to get him discussing it with his friend and his take on it. This sets up obvious comedy with, perhaps, her thinking it went really badly and him thinking it went really well."

The characters were largely based on a group of Bullen's friends.

``Surprisingly, they're all quite chuffed with it really. The one who I was concerned might take offence was the one played as David, who comes over a bit pompous and a bit of a buffoon, but is in fact not that at all. I never felt he was an idiot, probably because he's based on someone I know whom I'm very fond of. I always thought there was much more to David (Robert Bathurst), that he was much deeper. And he's a typically English character in that he's just not really in touch with his emotions. He's basically a sound bloke."

Bullen didn't want to be involved with the third series but was persuaded to return with successful co-writer David Nicholls. It was, he says, an interesting experience: ``Learning to give up my baby ... I'm lucky because he's a perfectly capable foster father."

Nevertheless, the writers, cast and crew have announced that the fourth series, currently being made in Britain, is likely to be the last. The show, which has attracted up to nine million viewers, was named best comedy-drama at the British TV comedy awards and Nesbitt was named best comedy actor.

``What I've found is that the writing actually gets easier but coming up with the ideas gets harder," Bullen says. ``Because we have tended to do big subjects, we are running out of places to go."

One of the places he may still go, however, is Australia. Granada, of course, recently separated its Red Heart production partnership with Seven. But, apparently, it is still exploring the possibilities of continuing Cold Feet here. Bullen has visited Australia six times and appears enthused.

``We're probably filming the end of the fourth series in Australia, which will likely be the end of the whole shooting match," Bullen says. ``One of the characters has a reason to come over and the others, for various reasons, follow. It's an idea that gives us an ending to the series. And, yes, we're even toying with the idea of trying to spin off a series set in Australia."

Hot Water perhaps?

Cold Feet screens on Channel Seven at 9.30pm on Tuesday

 
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