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The Sydney Morning Herald

Echo of Summer Bay

Author: ROBIN OLIVER
Date: 04/06/1995
Words: 714
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: THE GUIDE
Page: 3
ACCORDING to the come on that Ten has been pumping across its screens in recent weeks, Echo Point is "one address, a million secrets". There is the positive promise that Australia's latest soap opera is ready, as one particularly stupid prediction has it, to "annihilate" the seven-year-old colony of Summer Bay, sweeping viewers a short bus ride down the coast and swapping one set of beaches for another.

But, as even the most casual viewer will soon detect, Echo Point is only the same old address and its style of production holds few secrets.

Home and Away supporters who are drawn to have a look at the new program - it will be most unenterprising if they do not at some time do so - will find a string of similarities.

Who is the tray-carrying giant in the baker's shop at Echo Point where everybody gathers when they're not downing veggie-burgers at the cafe? It could almost be Home And Away's Alf, the crusty shopkeeper with a heart of nuggets, played so wonderfully well by Ray Meagher. There is the same wisdom, same gruffness, same everything, but in fact it's grumpy old Maurie, played by another stalwart, John Clayton. Watch him. He'll hold the thing together.

There is the villain, or what John Holmes, the original producer of Home and Away and now executive producer of Seven Network drama, describes as the standard black hat. In Home and Away, it was Mr Fisher, the vile headmaster. You won't miss Echo Point's black hat, because he's dressed from neck to toe in, well, black. That's Daniel Blake (Philip Gordon), once a suspected axe murderer (has somebody remembered Ten's own E Street?) and still assumed guilty by the gossips.

Home and Away has always been strong on warmth, light and shade. So far, Echo Point is steeped in shade, though there is humour aimed at Maurie towards the end of the first week.

Echo Point can improve from poor beginnings. It is, with the exception of some clumsily designed sets, well-filmed. It has a bountiful supply of those the industry calls pretties, the young spunks and dollies, each one bulging from their denim seams.

An 18-strong core cast, headed by Martin Henderson as the rebellious but likable Mark Brennan, allows Ten to push the show in almost any direction it chooses. Henderson has been brought in from New Zealand, where in 1993 he won Best Male Dramatic Performance in the NZ Television and Film Awards for his role in the country's most popular serial, Shortland Street.

Echo Point mirrors an old-fashioned concept of life in a chummy, easygoing beach community, essentially closer to the city than Summer Bay. It appears that the producers, Southern Star Xanadu, are content to open a number of doors on a variety of relationships and minor intrigues to see which work best.

Two cafes, The Shed and Grumpy Barnard's Bakery, are the favoured meeting places, while the return of Daniel Blake is the town's greatest unresolved mystery. Holly Winton (played by Kimberley Davenport), Carol O'Connor (Roxanne Wilson), Dave Campbell (Tom Long), Frannie Loman (Rebecca Murphy) and Maurie Barnard (John Clayton) seem the best-drawn characters, but this is soap and anything goes.

The main fault with Echo Point - and it is likely to prove unforgivable - is that it has been slotted in at 7 pm, Monday to Friday, bang up against Home and Away.

Both shows will initially suffer from this act of crass stupidity, while Sale of the Century could benefit enormously as the audience divides.

Holmes, who worked at Ten before Echo Point came on to the drawing board, wishes no ill upon his new rival, but there is no doubt Home and Away has been considerably strengthened to meet the challenge.

Bootleg copies of Echo Point have been flying round rival networks since the final cut. Even then it was not known what time the show would go to air.

Home and Away will be tough to beat, though that is not to say it cannot be done. Ten is already tweaking away at Echo Point. At least one cast change has been ordered, with the cafe the target area as a major character is written out.

In some areas, Echo Point moves too fast. Other story editors, for instance, would have strung out the drama of the pearl earclip in this week's episode.

Some scenes are quite long, though none as lengthy as Holmes recently allowed in Home and Away, when actors Dianne Craig and Justin Rosniak played out a confrontation that lasted an unprecedented six minutes, 50 seconds, taking an entire segment between commercial breaks, but gaining strong dramatic impact by the fact that others were trapped into being witnesses to the row. In another episode, the story required 44 scenes, an unusually high number.

"Young bodies are one thing," says Holmes. "You can shoot through muslin, you can shoot through rose-coloured filters, but in the end you have to have stories.

"If the stories fail, it sets off the bullshit meter."

WATCHING BRIEF

SHOW: Echo Point

DAY: Weeknights

TIME: Ten, 7 pm

DURATION: Half hour

 
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