TV: What a way to go!

By Fiona Rae

Fiona Rae made an appointment at the country's favourite clinic, where things are hotting up for a really smashing finale.

Holy smoke! Last night's grand finale for the year of our very own soap Shortland Street was a cracker.

The inferno which engulfed ambulance man Rangi and policewoman Janet, trapped in a road accident, was right up there with last year's nautical cliffhanger.

"Last year I said, let's do Titanic," says the soap's executive producer, Tony Holden. This year he wanted the show to go out with a big bang.

Blame the nature of the catastrophe on a tempting piece of partly finished motorway, the new stretch of State Highway 1 north of Albany, not yet open for traffic and therefore available for a film shoot.

Holden had always been hankering to do a big story about emergency services workers - the people who risk their lives saving others - getting caught up in a tragedy caused by a rogue member of the public.

The question of which cast member would be caught in the conflagration sparked by a drunken driver was easily answered. "Who's our hottest male? Let's toast Rangi."

The disaster should have the fans crowding the couch for the new season opener on January 10.

Will Rangi survive? Was this a convenient way of getting rid of girlfriend Janet now that Rangi's true love, Donna, has resolved that issue of incest?

Holden answers questions with teasing questions. "Will the burns unit be necessary or not?" "Will we ever see Rangi again?"

Then there are all those other storylines left hanging. Caroline's conversion to the lesbian lifestyle looks shaky now that she's again in the clutches of conniving Greg Feeney.

At least receptionist Moira and old flame Dean finally had a moment of passion. "But what skeletons are going to come out of Dean's closet?" Holden hints darkly. "Nice guys always have really murky pasts."

As for Aleesha's bombshell announcement to Frank of his impending fatherhood: "Is it his?" Holden wonders. And what about Minnie's newfound determination to use men like tissues? "When women use men that way there may be tears before bedtime."

Over the year a clutch of longtime cast members have left, among them principal couple David and Ellen, nurse Mike, and the rich-and-ambitious young thing Rachel.

Who could possibly replace them? There's the new clinic manager, Sophia Martinez, a hotel manager from the Philippines, Holden suggests. What will she make of the place? And expect two new women nurses and a young male doctor in the new year. "Cause a lot of heartbreak, I suspect."

Newly appointed producer Lisa Bates says that winning viewers over to a bunch of new characters will be one of her first challenges.

"I'm a great fan of David E. Kelley [top American drama producer and creator of shows such as Ally McBeal and The Practice]. I think he is so clever. And the trick that I believe he has in all of his dramas is that he convinces audiences to believe in and love the characters.

"I think that's what's vital for Shortland Street next year, because we've lost so many of our oldies and goodies and the ones we really love."

Bates also admires Kelley's use of music and stunning stock shots such as Ally McBeal's views of the city of Boston filmed from the air at night.

Now that sounds like a real challenge - going for the Kelley touch on a small-budget local soap.

"I know, we don't even have a chopper," Bates says, adding that she hasn't yet approached makers South Pacific Pictures about this. "Imagine if we could fly up around the Sky Tower for our little moments once someone's just got married on Shortland Street, or something." Or what you could do for the finale for the year 2000.

During the holiday break South Pacific Pictures production will move from Browns Bay to west Auckland. The new premises allow for more studio sets, so the clinic will gain several new interiors. This, in turn, will allow for expanded storylines.

But won't the move away from the building used as the clinic exterior mean the whole clinic will have to change? And how will the new premises be explained in the plot?

A devastating earthquake or flood could be dramatic.

"Ah ha. I think we'll just leave the audience to think over that one," Bates says. Indeed they could.

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