Thursday, 26 May 2011

When TV was naff! Remembering Eldorado (1992)

Eldorado was a British Soap Opera that ran for only one year, from 6 July 1992 to 9 July 1993. Set in Coin on the Costa Del Sol and based around the lives of British and European expats, the BBC hoped it would be as successful as EastEnders and replicate some of the sunshine and glamour of imported Australian soaps such as Home and Away and Neighbours. It was made as a co-production between the BBC and independent production company Cinema Verity, and aired three times a week in a high-profile evening slot on the mainstream channel BBC1, filling the BBC1 slot vacated by Terry Wogan's chat show Wogan, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7.00pm.

In spite of a high-profile advertising campaign on television, radio and in the press preceding the launch ('Are you ready for Eldorado?', read by actor Campbell Morrison), the programme was not initially a popular hit with viewers and critics. Ratings improved with a radical overhaul, but it was eventually cancelled by the new controller of BBC1, Alan Yentob.

Although the show contained many professional actors (such as Patricia Brake and Jesse Birdsall), many of the cast were inexperienced actors whose limitations were clearly exposed on such a new and ambitious project: prior to filming, some of the cast did not even know what a read-through was; the acting was derided as amateurish, while the attempt to appear more 'European' by having people speaking other languages without subtitles or bizarre/unconvincing accents was met by viewers with incomprehension and ridicule.

As a result of filming in bare-walled villas rather than a studio, there were many sound and acoustic problems such as echoing. Possibly in a bid to court media attention, the show opened with the controversial story of middle-aged man, Bunny (played by Roger Walker) returning from the UK with a 17-year-old bride, Fizz (Kathy Pitkin); many viewers felt this storyline was implausible and seedy. On top of this, ITV decided to air a special one-hour edition of Coronation Street against Eldorado on the show's debut evening, to "strangle it at birth" as network executives put it.

Eldorado was conceived by EastEnders creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland, and was executive produced by Verity Lambert, who had made her reputation as an in-house producer for the BBC, and had previously launched the BBC's successful Science Fiction television series Doctor Who. As a result, the costly production - although not exorbitant by contemporary television standards - was used by critics of the television licence to argue that the corporation was feathering the nest of former employees. Due to the stresses of internal feuding, producer Julia Smith had a nervous breakdown and left the soap opera, to be replaced by Corinne Hollingworth, who had previously worked on EastEnders and brought about many changes to Eldorado by hiring new scriptwriters, creating extra rehearsal time, and removing many of the inexperienced and poor actors who had attracted criticism.

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