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Author: Lucy Clark
Date: 10/01/1988
Words: 804
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Television
Page: 55
NIGHTLY at six, when Steve, Geraldine and Brian are bringing us television's most depressing program, there on Channel 7 will be Tom and Pippa, spreading a bit of light and joy.

A modest couple, they will bring us the news from Summer Bay, a happy little coastal community where they live with their five children. No word of bombings or massacres. Just the odd family argument.

For after next Sunday, there is an alternative. A choice for people who happen to be home at 6pm. Something else on a commercial station besides The News.

To show its confidence in its new nightly, half-hourly "high quality soap", Channel 7 has taken a step away from programming convention and placed Home And Away in the 6pm timeslot. The news will follow.

And it's been done, says executive producer Alan Bateman, to tap into a market they know is there, sitting at home and not watching the news.

"The audience we want to attract is there, at home. Right now for them there is no alternative. There are the three commercial news and the ABC has not programmed the sort of stuff that is a genuine alternative since the likes of The Goodies," he said.

The audience they have identified and are targeting is mostly young people up to the age of 19, then people plus 40-45 - largely women, he said.

Channel 7 - to date the most prolific producers of Australian drama - say Home And Away, which comes from the same stable as the long running A Country Practice, will be on screen well beyond '88. They are confident.

And they have good cause to be.

Home And Away is a soap, make no bones about it. It's often sentimental(soppy, some would say). But if the two-hour pilot, written by series script editor Bevan Lee, is anything to go by, it is as it has been tagged - high quality soap.

In it there are no "big names", just fine actors and actresses. At the helm is Roger Oakley as Tom Fletcher whose credits are too many to name here. His face may be remembered most for his work as Major Barrington in the Sullivans

Beside him as his wife Pippa is Vanessa Downing, who has to date spent most of her acting career in the theatre. Most recently she sang sweetly with The Madrigirls at the Belvoir Street Theatre and the Sydney Opera House.

Then there are the Fletcher children - all fostered by Tom and Pippa who are unable to have children themselves. The oldest is Frankie - a bit of a toughie played by Alex Papps, who is sure to become a childhood sweetheart of teenage girls across the country - Seven say the fan mail is already streaming in.

Next in line is Adam Willits as Steve, Sharyn Hodgson as Carly, Helena Bozich as Lynn, and Kate Ritchie as Sally, all of them a credit to themselves and to producer John Holmes.

When Tom Fletcher is retrenched, the Fletchers are at risk of losing their fostered children, all with different and colourful backgrounds they regard as their own.

They will do anything to keep them. So they sell their house and move to the country, a place called Summer Bay, where they buy an old house and a caravan park business.

Here they meet a funny old pair, Floss and Neville (Sheila Kennelly and Frank Lloyd), who live in the park; roguish Alf (Ray Meagher) who sold them the park; Ailsa (Judy Nunn), who owns the general store; a nasty neighbour, Mr Fisher (Norman Coburn), and two surfie blokes who are thick as two short planks (Peter Vroom and Craig Thompson).

Ironically, the wonderful Gwen Plumb, who is to be a regular in Channel 10's new series, Richmond Hill, also pops up as the town nosey parker.

But most important to the pilot's storyline is Bobby (Nicole Dickson), an aggressive teenage girl who has managed to polarise Summer Bay into those who think she's an apprentice crim, and those who see her as an emotionally undernourished little girl.

Pippa sees the good in her and by the end of the pilot, Bobby is part of the Fletcher brood.

Thus the scene is set for a nice, warm series that just might become another long running Australian drama. The pilot screens on Seven next Sunday at 7.30pm.

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