Stefan Dennis on the Neighbors finale and Scott and Charlene’s wedding

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When news broke earlier this year that Neighbors was being taken down, fans around the world were devastated. The iconic Australian soap opera has entertained millions for 37 years, what would the show’s loyal followers do without their daily visits to the sweet suburb of Erinsborough?

Audiences rallied to stop it from disappearing from the programs with online petitions, social media support, prayers and positive vibes, but sadly Friday 29th July sees the final episode hit our screens. Neighbors legend Stefan Dennis, who has played the venomous Paul Robinson since the first episode, is as disgusted as we are but reveals there was a glimmer of hope for a reprieve before Ramsay Street’s fate was sealed . Kind of…

“We were played a cruel April Fool’s Day trick that another network, Channel 7, was going to save the show,” he tells us, in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com celebrating the much-loved soap opera. “It made me laugh because they actually fired us after our first year in 1985, and we were taken over by their rival Channel 10!”

Dennis tells us that the original deal at the start that kept the drama going for more than three decades was done within months, but despite the best efforts of the producers — and the fans — things were different this time, to everyone’s disappointment.

In February, UK broadcaster Channel 5 announced that it was withdrawing its heavy financial contribution for financial reasons, leaving Channel 10 in need of a new investor to continue carrying the program which unfortunately was not found. on time.

“It could have gone on forever and eventually we probably would have done more for UK and European audiences,” says Dennis. “Unfortunately there is the financial link with Australia and the grades may not be as good as they would like. It is a financial matter.”

The Neighbors have notoriously been a launching pad for entertainers, giving Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Margot Robbie and Guy Pearce a passport to international stardom. While it’s sad that the platform doesn’t exist for the next generation of Australian talent, Dennis points out that the show’s demise is significant for many other reasons.

The cast of The Neighbors on their last day of filming

Freemantle

“For me, the saddest thing and the biggest disappointment is losing what it gives back to the industry,” laments the actor. “I don’t understand why the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), which is our government-funded equivalent of the BBC, didn’t pick it up, then it would belong to the Australian public and we wouldn’t have to worry. about sponsorship or whatever. It’s an iconic piece of television history and would have been preserved. There’s obviously a lot of reasons why that didn’t happen, but it’s is a pity.

“What really bothers me, and I’m not talking about me because I was probably going to retire in the not too distant future anyway, is the 200 or so people behind the scenes who will be out of work. We forget those who won’t have a job and still have bills to pay, Voisins has been their employer for nearly 40 years, and that will leave a big hole in the industry that people don’t realize.

Paul’s character is as much a part of the soap opera as the Ramsay Street sign. Like Ken Barlow of Coronation Street, Ian Beale of EastEnders and Tony Hutchinson of Hollyoaks, the rogue Robinson has been there from the start and his checkered life embodies the show itself: whatever he does, it’s always entertaining, often dramatic and often leaves you appalled. Will his alter ego miss Dennis?

“I never wanted the job at first!” he’s laughing. “I only signed on for six months initially, once there and I got my teeth in I started exploring the character, in my naive way like I did back then when I was a young actor!

“At first Paul was a carefree 20-something and a bit of a blank canvas, very different to the person I play now. I left in the early 90s and when I came back in 2004, that’s when there that he became a real villain.

The unique challenge for a longtime soap opera actor is to cling to the essence of a character for many years in the face of an ever-changing creative staff. Producers and writers come and go, but stalwarts like Dennis have to maintain integrity and a consistent line for die-hard fans, does that make him protective of dear old Paul?

“I guess to some extent,” he mused. “I know what the public expects of him. There was a scenario where he suffered from a brain tumor and then became perfectly clean and a good guy afterwards. I accepted it for a while but kept coming back to the producers telling them that the public didn’t want him to be Mr Nice Guy, they like Paul to be Mr Nasty!

“Eventually they got the message and slowly started to send it back. I’ve always wanted to be honest with the Paul viewers want. Sometimes he’s an idiot, but that’s a good thing and when you know the character works!

Ruthless businessman Paul has become the JR Ewing of the suburbs, the cunning kingpin of the sleepy cul-de-sac that fans loved to hate but still feel enormous affection for as he remains nostalgically tied to the age of gold from Neighbors in the late 1980s.

At the time, the show generated ratings of around 20 million in a teatime slot on BBC One and was a cultural phenomenon, which Dennis and his castmates had no idea until. ’til they were flown to the UK in 1988 to appear at the Royal Variety Performance.

“It was a big revelation,” he recalls. “Screaming fans were everywhere, shaking the coach we took from the airport to the hotel. We had security guys, publicists, this big entourage, it was exciting but also quite scary! In Australia , the fans were more laid back and you weren’t hassled, none of us were prepared for the level of attention in the UK.

At the time, it felt like most countries were tuned into the show, even royalty… “We lined up to meet the Queen Mother backstage, she shook our hands and then waved. continued the line to meet the cast of American sitcom The Golden Girls who were the headline of the evening. Midway through their conversation, the Queen Mother came back to us and asked what was going to happen to Neighbors in the future, as Australia were 18 months ahead at the time. She snubbed the Golden Girls to get the gossip!

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A major factor in the first wave of Neighbors-mania was the irresistible teenage romance between Scott and Charlene, the roles that sent the aforementioned Kylie and Jason into the stratosphere. Their wedding, which aired in the UK in November 1988 (just weeks before Royal Variety appeared) remains a highlight of the soap opera and as the groom’s big brother, Dennis stood by their side at the altar. Did he realize that he was part of television history?

“It was one of the most boring days on set I’ve ever had on Neighbours!” he’s laughing. “There was hardly any dialogue, most of us were glorified extras, there were a lot of meaningful stares. I remember sitting around that drafty church doing nothing. Thank goodness I took I book with me!”

Despite the boredom, Dennis acknowledges the huge impact of the episode, and we can’t let him go without asking him why he thinks the harrowing nuptials clip still strikes a chord, and will no doubt be watched by countless. times as the duo make their long-awaited comeback as part of the neighbors’ emotional farewell.

“He remains iconic simply because of Scott and Charlene’s popularity at the time. Whether by pure chance or orchestrated, Jason and Kylie managed to latch on to two of the most popular characters in history.

“It was a massive storyline with this big build-up of, ‘Are they going? Is not it ? When they finally got married, everyone was so happy for them. It was the ultimate happy ending!

And that’s what everyone on Ramsay Street deserves…

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The final episode of Neighbors airs Friday, July 29 at 9 p.m., followed by Neighbors: what happened next? at 10:05 p.m. and Neighbours: The Stars’ Greatest Hits at 11.30pm on Channel 5. Check out more of our Soaps coverage or visit our TV guide to see what’s on tonight.

The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for just £1. For more from TV’s biggest stars, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey.

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