By LOUISA CLEAVE
The country's longest-running soap, Shortland Street, is bringing back an original character.
Michael Galvin is returning to New Zealand to play Chris "Dr Sleaze" Warner, a viewer favourite who romanced most of the female characters during his four years on the eight-year-old series.
The producers have worked to build up a new stable of faces after popular characters such as receptionists Rachel (Angela Bloomfield) and Kirsty (Angela Dotchin), head nurse Ellen (Robyn Malcolm) and her clinic director husband David (Peter Elliott) left the show.
Shortland Street's target audience has fallen in the past two months, although the programme continues to command half of the television audience and is consistently in the top 10 shows for those aged 18 to 39.
Audience figures from ACNielsen for August show a 17 per cent drop in viewer numbers - an average 284,000 viewers in 1999 compared with an average 237,000 in 2000.
The downward trend continued from July, when the average audience was 278,000 compared with 290,000 in 1999.
The programme's executive producer, Tony Holden, said Galvin's return was not motivated by ratings and the actor had expressed an interest in returning to Shortland Street after four years away.
TV One was aiming more at younger viewers and this was having an impact on the 18 to 39 demographic, Mr Holden said.
"That was their strategy a year ago and you're now seeing some of those chickens coming home to roost."
Galvin's character was written out of the show by leaving the fictional medical clinic to work in the United States.
"He's a cosmetic surgeon who put his scalpel into a lot of places, as it were," said Mr Holden.
It was exciting to get a familiar face back on screen, "which is what we've always tried to do but a lot of them aren't terribly interested."
Galvin, now living in London, will start work on the show next month.
By LOUISA CLEAVE