The Seven Network is adding to its line-up of mid-dawn drama repeats. As well as the recent addition of Sons And Daughters, Seven has slotted in late-night repeats of its other ’80s series A Country Practice.
ACP, which ran for over 1000 episodes, has had a few re-runs on Seven and pay-TV since its demise in 1993, as well as episodes being released on DVD. The re-runs being scheduled now appear to be starting from around episode 475, which places it somewhere around 1987 – about half-way through its original run (comparing the blurb on ebroadcast’s TV guide to the episode guide at Wandin Valley Bush Nursing Hospital).
A Country Practice – set in the fictional rural NSW community of Wandin Valley, but particularly around the town’s medical practice and hospital -was originally proposed to the Ten Network in 1980 by James Davern, a producer of the former ABC series Bellbird. Ten knocked it back, one assumes to pursue other drama gems such as Holiday Island, Punishment and Arcade! Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Davern then pitched the concept to Seven, who liked the idea and then ordered thirteen episodes. ACP made its debut on Seven in November 1981 during the normally-quiet summer non-ratings period – giving the series a good two months to drum up an audience before the 1982 ratings season got underway.
The original cast included a strong line-up of familiar faces, such as Brian Wenzel (Certain Women), Lorrae Desmond (Number 96, Arcade), Shane Porteous (Number 96, The Restless Years), Penny Cook (The Restless Years) and Syd Heylen (Sunnyside Up, The Box, Arcade), and some new names including Shane Withington, Anne Tenney, Grant Dodwell and Wendy Strehlow.
The launch of A Country Practice and Sons And Daughters only months apart set up Seven with two solid drama hits for several years. While Sons And Daughters was pure melodramatic soap opera, ACP was more down-to-earth and never one to shy away from various social issues – such as drugs, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, homosexuality, domestic violence, gambling, nuclear testing and sexual assault – and with any TV series set around a hospital, just about any disease and ailment known to man would make an appearance in Wandin Valley.
And so the goings on from Wandin Valley continued over the next twelve years, including some landmark TV moments – most notably, the death of the much-loved Molly Jones (Anne Tenney), the colourful city slicker who had moved to Wandin Valley with her nurse husband Brendan (Shane Withington), who succumbed after a long battle with leukaemia. Viewers around the nation wept as Molly slipped away while watching Brendan and daughter Chloe (Emily Nicol) fly a kite.
Many more characters would come and go, including doctors, nurses, matrons, vets, town clerks, park rangers, schoolteachers, hippies and policemen, but by 1993, Seven decided the show had finally out-lived its welcome. The epic three-hour final episode, screened on 22 November, saw the show’s main focal point, the Wandin Valley hospital, ravaged by bushfire.
Then, the Ten Network that had turned a Seven flop, Neighbours, into an international success, dared to see if lightning could strike twice by taking on ACP. It was a curious venture, given Ten’s target demographic were younger viewers, and ACP was a series that skewed towards an older audience – part of the reason why Seven let it go – but Ten had dropped its long-running series E Street and needed a replacement.
ACP took on a markedly different appearance when it resurfaced on Ten six months after its demise on Seven. Suddenly, Wandin Valley had moved from inland NSW to the Dandenongs on the outskirts of Melbourne. Only a handful of characters from the ‘old’ ACP came across to the ‘new’, and no reference was made at all to the characters that didn’t follow. The series was scheduled on Wednesday nights, but failure to capture an audience soon saw it shunted off to Saturday afternoons to play out its remaining episodes.
Like various other Australian dramas, ACP has been sold overseas with screenings in the United Kingdom, Europe, New Zealand and Canada.
A Country Practice, Monday night/Tuesday morning 1.00am, Seven Melbourne. (Other areas/affiliates check local guides)
Source: Wandin Valley Bush Nursing Hospital. Super Aussie Soaps, Andrew Mercado