By ANNE BESTON
The slaughter of cast members on Shortland Street appears to have become a massacre, with another nine actors tipped to go from the top-rating soap.
The sweeping changes have occurred after maker South Pacific Pictures brought in an Australian consultant to assess the show.
Those joining the list of exiting actors include Paul Ellis (who plays Buzz Bar owner Fergus Kearney), Tahei Simpson (resident doctor Cassie Moore) and Katherine Hubbard (ambulance driver Ange Weaver).
They join cast members Geraldine Brophy (receptionist Moira Cochrane), Katrina Devine (Minnie Crozier), Greg Johnson (Dean Cochrane), Jay Saussey (Tamsin Yates) and Malcolm Murray (Al Dubrovsky), who have been told their characters' time is up.
The Weekend Herald understands that Karl Burnett, who has played Nick Harrison since the show first aired in 1992, will stay, along with Blair Strang, who plays ambulance officer Rangi Heremaia.
Also to escape the cuts are Auckland actor Claire Chitham, who plays coffee shop owner Waverley Wilson.
One insider who was at the West Auckland studios the day the cuts were announced described the actors as "quietly horrified" and said they would have difficulty getting the kind of regular, well-paid work that Shortland Street represented.
They would also take a spectacular drop in salary from the up-to-$3000 a week paid to some core cast members. Actors who play smaller, temporary roles receive $325 a day.
But those in front of the camera are not the only ones to get their marching orders - at least one storyliner was told to leave last week. Storyliners think up plots.
One source said the new-look Shortland Street would be based "on the bones" of the programme that viewers had become familiar.
Most industry insiders the Weekend Herald spoke to said South Pacific Pictures wanted to make the soap grittier and put more emphasis on the medical dramas at the clinic.
The company yesterday denied that staff had been told the changes were being made as a result of a fall in ratings.
The five actors reported to have been dumped in the Herald story on Thursday had "long histories of excellent work as they bring the Shortland Street characters to life week in, week out," it said.
The actors would continue to appear on the TV2 soap for a "considerable time."
The Weekend Herald understands they will be gone by February but will not disappear from screen for a few weeks after that because episodes are filmed 12 weeks in advance.
Shortland Street is one of New Zealand's most successful home-grown dramas, with about 700,000 viewers tuning in each weeknight.
It grabs a healthy 15 per cent-plus of the viewing audience aged 5 years and over and regularly hits 20 per cent and over in the key 18-to-39 demographic.
By ANNE BESTON