The Eighties and Nineties sure brought some soapie clunkers to the otherwise top-rating Nine Network. After the demise of former hit series The Young Doctors and The Sullivans, each year brought the promise of a new arrival that would, inevitably, die a ratings death and play out its remaining episodes in the summer non-ratings period.
Taurus Rising, Starting Out, Kings, Waterloo Station, Possession, Prime Time, All The Way and Family And Friends were all hyped up but ended up with nowhere to go. Somehow, the adult soap Chances managed to go on for two years although towards the end it lost any pretence of being a serious drama and became almost a parody of the genre with some bizarre storylines.
After Chances faded away, Nine looked north — to the Gold Coast — for its next soap. With backing from Village Roadshow and international production and distribution giant New World Television and with assistance from the Queensland Government, Paradise Beach was to be Nine’s big drama hit.
With former Crawfords producer Jock Blair on board plus a strong line-up of soapie veterans (including Robert Coleby, Eric Oldfield, Andrew McKaige, Deborah Coulls and later Paula Duncan, Zoe Bertram and Michael Caton) and spunky newcomers, Paradise Beach was preparing for world domination. Also hoped to aid the show’s overseas prospects were the casting of Olivia Newton-John‘s American-born husband Matt Lattanzi, and Aussie actress Tiffany Lamb sporting a fairly dodgy American accent. The series had been pre-sold to cover 82 per cent of the US television market for its upcoming summer season and had sparked a bidding war between BBC, ITV and BSkyB in the UK. It was also sold to countries across Europe before one episode had gone to air here.
The series debuted in Australia on 31 May 1993 in the 5.30pm timeslot — seen as a crucial timeslot as the lead-in to the 6.00pm news and at the same time avoiding any conflict with established soaps Neighbours and Home And Away on rival networks.
But like so many before it, Paradise Beach failed to fire. It was dubbed in some press as the biggest soapie flop since Network Ten‘s Arcade back in 1980. The critics predicably didn’t like it. “It makes (Fast Forward‘s soap parody) “Dumb Street” look like Shakespeare,” and “It is overwhemingly awful, appallingly badly acted and, judged on the first clutch of episodes, rarely lives up to the sense of pace offered in the trailers,” were early reviews.
The Americans and the Brits soon lost interest and the show’s wooden acting and garish product placement (such as frequent plugs for Gold Coast-based Warner Bros Movie World) made it a target for parody.
Nine soon saw the error of its ways and bumped Paradise Beach out of its 5.30pm timeslot, replacing it with a revival of The Price Is Right. The series limped along in various timeslots for 260 episodes, seemingly on the back of a determined following in Europe.
But while it’s easy to dismiss and mock dud soaps, it’s fair to say that usually they provide a springboard to later fame particularly for some of the younger actors. Newcomers Kimberley Joseph, Ingo Rademacher, Raelee Hill, Jaason Simmonds and Isla Fisher all went on to future fame here or overseas. Tony Hayes, a teenager in Paradise Beach, has starred in more recent dramas including The Slap, Devil’s Dust, Seven Types Of Ambiguity and the new series Mystery Road. Jon Bennett is now Manu Bennett and recently starred in series Spartacus: Blood And Sand, Arrow and The Shannara Chronicles .
And TV historian, presenter and commentator Andrew Mercado got his first job in TV working behind the scenes on Paradise Beach.