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22 Aug 2019 14:33
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  •   Home > News > International

    Seachange returns to TV, taking us back to Pearl Bay 20 years later

    When the show's creator Deb Cox made her own sea change in 1997, the technology had not quite caught up to the lifestyle choice she helped popularise.

    Television producer Deb Cox was in the process of moving her family from Melbourne to Byron Bay in 1997 when the ABC picked up Seachange, a show she created.

    "My kids were small, we were only meant to be there for a year," Cox recalls.

    "First of all I said I can't do the show because I am moving. Then it was: 'Well, maybe you can do it long distance'."

    In those days, the only person who could receive her emailed scripts was in the ABC's accounts department, she said. The technology had not quite caught up to the lifestyle choice Cox and her team were about to popularise.

    Seachange debuted in 1998 and became the top-rated Australian drama on television in its second and third seasons.

    It followed Laura Gibson (Sigrid Thornton), a former city lawyer, as she tried to resettle her young family in the coastal town of Pearl Bay after her marriage imploded.

    Twenty years later — in real life and in the fictional reality of the show — Seachange is back, this time on Channel Nine, which will begin airing the fourth season on Tuesday night.

    Laura has returned to the isolated community after a failed attempt at volunteering in Africa. That means reacquainting her herself with some former neighbours: Bob Jelly (John Howard), the dodgy developer just out of prison; Bob's loyal wife Heather (Kerry Armstrong) and Kevin Findlay (Kevin Harrington), the lovably daft owner of the local camping ground.

    Oh, and the most important local she left behind, her daughter, Miranda (Brooke Satchwell), who we discover within the first few minutes of the first episode is pregnant.

    Return to a flawed female character

    Cox says initially she wasn't sure she wanted to reboot the show. She didn't think she had anything new to say. She was also conscious of not compromising the legacy of such a beloved series.

    "I rang up Sigrid Thornton. She had similar feelings. Is this a good idea? Should we leave it alone?" she said.

    Bit by bit, with discussion ongoing between her company Every Cloud, Channel Nine and ITV, which acquired the rights during the show's initial run, she was "drawn back into the creative process", she says.

    In the end, it became clear that the show was going to be made with or without her involvement.

    "We felt like it was a show that we should look after and shepherd through if it was going to be revived," she said.

    Back in the 1990s, Cox had wanted to write about a flawed female character having a mid-life crisis and hoping a move to a "mythical place" might straighten her out.

    "I thought 20 years later, the only reason I wanted to do it was to take those characters and imagine them not reinvented, but take them forward in time," she says.

    "Which meant seeing what had changed for women approaching 60 rather than 40."

    She wanted to explore what 60 looked like for women today — not retirement, as it might have been a generation previous, but a new chapter.

    There was also the dynamic of parenting grown children. Laura came of age at a time when moving out of home was a permanent thing — "there wasn't a lot of raking over the coals, you weren't interdependent," Cox says of parents and children of that generation.

    "You weren't a boomerang, like adult children are now … They are coming home, they are needing help, they are doing stints under the family roof again and disappearing again.

    "And with that comes a lot of great dramatic and humorous fodder to do with blaming each other, living in each other's pockets, being closer to each other [and] having more in common than previous generations."

    The original Seachange mirrored a phenomenon that was occurring in Australia at the time: large numbers of people moving from cities to coastal areas.

    Two decades later, with housing unaffordability in cities a constant headline, the idea of a sea change is perhaps even more attractive. Cox says the term has become "commodified" in the way it wasn't during the first iteration of the show.

    "There are companies you can go to to help you make that shift," she says. "There's research you can do online. It's become such an industry, that idea of shifting your life."

    There are also the reality shows, including this year's Escape From The City, on the ABC. Meanwhile, as regional and rural Australia generally suffers from population decline, platforms like Airbnb romanticise the notion of retreating to a coastal enclave.

    "None of that occurred to Laura Gibson," Cox says. "She just did it on a whim and it was ill thought through."

    Cox never entertained the idea of volunteering in Africa, but says elements of the show have been drawn from her own life and the lives of people she knows, though pushed to extremes in a way that is possible in television drama.

    There's a nice synchronicity to that.

    Because of the success of the first season of Seachange, Cox was able to continue living in Byron Bay, occasionally commuting back to Melbourne. By the show's end, she felt embedded in the community.

    "Being able to do Seachange meant that I stayed there and did my own sea change."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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