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The Sydney Morning Herald

Manchester six go walkabout

Author: Rosanna de Lisle
Date: 11/12/2000
Words: 800
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: The Guide
Page: 4
Britain's affectionate drama Cold Feet is bound for Sydney where its fourth series may be produced. Rosanna de Lisle reports.

Cold Feet, the sparkily inventive and seriously funny British drama about three middle-class, 30-something couples living in Manchester, has had no trouble finding an audience in Australia. The first two series were shown on Channel Seven and notched up a network average of 1,160,900 viewers, more than either The Panel or Sex and the City. Now, thanks to some ingenious twists of plot, the Granada production is set to come here.

Cold Feet's writer, Mike Bullen, and executive producer Andy Harries were in town recently for the Screen Producers of Australia conference, and when they were not at the Hilton explaining the show's genesis to a ballroom packed with film-industry delegates, they were grappling with the logistics of bringing Cold Feet to Sydney.

In Britain, where the third series has just gone to air, it has hooked 9.5 million viewers, a staggering 42 per cent of audience share. This phenomenal success is the reason for relocating it. When Cold Feet started - as a pilot that wasn't commissioned as a series until it unexpectedly won the Golden Rose at the Montreux Comedy Awards in 1997 - only two of the cast, Helen Baxendale and James Nesbitt, who play the pivotal couple Rachel and Adam, were established television actors. Now all six are among the best-known and best-paid stars on British television, their steeply rising salaries causing the British press to rename the series Gold Feet. A couple of months ago the six struck a ?700,000 ($1.8 million) handcuff deal with Granada committing themselves to a fourth series. But fame and wealth aren't everything: after four years the actors are getting itchy to go off and do other things.

When the cast breaks up, Bullen could plug the gaps by introducing new characters into the existing Manchester set-up, but "our characters are so well-established now that I think the audience would feel short-changed. If we change the location we can create a new world: we can make it younger and we can make it a bit sexier and funnier."

Leaving aside Bullen's evident desire to spend more time in Sydney - he has been here six times and has relatives on the northern beaches - uprooting the show may fix some of the problems caused by its longevity.

"The characters are definitely easier to write now, but the stories are much harder."

While Cold Feet's genre-defying combination of drama and comedy, and its habit of lurching surreally between the two, is undoubtedly the program's unique selling point, it is also Bullen's headache.

"The problem is coming up with the situations that lend themselves to what we want to do. We've done quite big storylines: cancer, abortion, death, drugs ... so, you wonder, what else is there? That's continually the challenge: to come up with stuff that we haven't done before and which lends itself to both comedy and drama. But if we could shift the action to Sydney and have a mixture of British and Australian characters, then that does throw up interesting possibilities."

The plan is to bring the original sixsome here in the fourth series.

"We're toying with quite a major storyline," Bullen says, trying not to give too much away. "One of them, whose relationship is no more, meets an Australian in England and he comes out here, and the notion is that the others follow. Then one of the others would have a reason for wanting to walk away from his life so he comes out here too. That's really an excuse to bring everyone out, and the final episode would be a 90-minute special looking back on their lives up to that point; because it would be the last episode with these characters."

The original six will no doubt board planes back to Blighty, but their vehicle may stay on, for a fifth series set entirely in Australia. Bullen, for one, thinks it would work. He sees good comic and dramatic potential in the affinities and hostilities between Poms and Aussies, and reckons there is almost as much scope for class jokes in "classless" Australia as in Britain. "I think there is a class system in Australia. It might not be class in the sense of breeding, but it's class in the sense of money. In fact, one of the characters we're already interested in is a multi-millionaire who's still very much an ocker. He'd be a bit like Jim Royle in The Royle Family."

There is still a lot of research to be done, and Bullen is not complaining. "I just see it as an excuse to come here and ring people up and say, 'I need to go sailing this weekend; any chance you can take me?"'

Repeats of Cold Feet start on Channel Seven from Wednesday at 8.30pm. The third series will be shown on Seven next year.

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