Key Points:

It's goodbye serial killer, and hello to love, lust and the return of a bad boy to New Zealand's beloved series. But what does 2009 have in store for Shortland Street? Joanna Hunkin investigates

This time last year there was a killer on the loose. A maniacal sociopath stalking the

Street

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, murdering Ferndale's innocent residents.

It was a crime spree that gripped the nation, making headlines across the country. Everyone had their own theory as to who the killer could be.

As the big reveal came, in the final minutes of the last episode of 2007, thousands of viewers tuned in to see Joey Henderson try to attack nurse Tania Jeffries - 624,834 viewers to be exact.

The plotline marked a defining moment in

Shortland Street

history, pulling some of the best ratings the soap had ever seen. But it presented a considerable problem: Where to from here?

How would writers maintain interest and keep those figures throughout 2008?

Producer Jason Daniels says ratings for this year haven't waned since the conclusion of the serial killer story in February - a dramatic finale that saw Joey plunge to his death from the roof of an inner-city high-rise building.

After all that adrenalin, Daniels decided to tone down the suspense and scriptwriters embarked on lighter, more loved-up storylines.

"One of the things we've done with

Shortland Street

over this year is gradually rely more and more on the lighter comic stories," explains Daniels.

"We've had gangs and crime and we're just about to go into another thriller story. But sitting alongside that all the time is comedy and romance and a lot of lighter stuff."

Like any good soap opera, this year's storylines can be broken down into four categories: Love, loss, lust and intrigue. But before we recall the best moments of this year's viewing, what can you expect from the Christmas cliffhanger?

"Something that will have massive repercussions for next year," says Daniels. "It will pull in lots of different characters into the one story and will have everyone on the edge of their seats for the first couple of months of 2009.

"I wouldn't like to reveal whether anyone gets killed but there will be a couple of cast changes early in the new year."

LOVE

The path to Scotty and Shanti's marital union was rocky but when they finally made it to the altar, it was worth it. A special one-hour episode made the most of the traditional Indian wedding, stretched over four days. Viewers feasted on the colourful spectacular, making it one of the highest-rating episodes of the year.

Love triangles have also played a key role in this year's storylines, first with Dr Craig Valentine making a play for old flame Sarah Potts' heart, and later with the curious chemistry between asexual Gerald, Morgan and Hunter.

Most recently, resident lesbian nurse Maia Jeffries developed feelings for fellow nurse Alice, who is dating surgeon Dr Ethan Pierce.

LOSS

One of the most tragic - and unexpected - moments this year was the sudden death of long-time

Shortland Street

er Toni Warner, played by Laura Hill.

Rumours abounded as to the reason for Hill's sudden departure, but all we know for sure is one day Toni was happy and healthy, the next she was dead.

"People were really shocked by that because no one saw it coming," says Daniels. "We did it in a very sneaky way and she went quite quickly. Which was good because it has more impact that way. It's not nearly as much fun when you see it coming."

Dr Craig Valentine, played by Renato Bartolomei, also took his last bow on the

Street

this year, after he was murdered by hired thugs from the Scott Spears pharmaceutical company which Craig had damning evidence against. Chased through the forest, Craig was caught and beaten, before the thugs threw him in his car and torched it.

Finally, Alice Piper's baby, Kelly, died in September after she was born prematurely.

LUST

Extramarital affairs are to soap operas, what trees are to a forest fire - and this year has been no exception. Dr Callum McKay broke his vows to wife Justine with American consultant Martha Riley, a fact revealed to their closest friends and colleagues at a dinner party.

Newcomer Brooke Freeman also strayed from her relationship - at her partner's request - to try and elicit information from Dr Chris Warner. Unfortunately for Dr Ethan Pierce, his plan backfired when Brooke realised Chris treated her better than Ethan and she ditched the surgeon for his rival.

INTRIGUE

As

Shortland Street

celebrated its 4000th episode this year, producers brought back a familiar face. Former

Street

-star-turned-Hollywood actor Temuera Morrison returned to the clinic as Dr Hone Ropata. Having sufficiently stirred the pot - and boosted ratings - Ropata rode off into the sunset after six action-packed weeks.

But the most curious storyline this year was that of Dr Justine Jones, who subverted an attempt on her life, faking her own death and escaping to Australia. She's in a witness protection programme while police investigate the Scott-Spear pharmaceutical company.