1991-1992 - 127 X 60 minute episodes - Produced by
Beyond Productions for the Nine Network
Chances started as a straight family drama with some sex. Chances ended with an Egyptian Sun Goddess, Oriental villains, and some sex. This was the straight drama that panicked at its low viewing figures, then lost its mind in a bid for ratings.
The main opening storyline of Chances introduced a large extended family gathered at a lavish party. There was about to be a $3 million lottery win and one of the assembled family members would win the life changing loot. The main couple in the centre of the family, Dan and Barbara Taylor (played by John Sheerin and Brenda Addie), were revealed as the winners and ensuing storylines explored the changes wrought by the sudden windfall.
Dan and Barbara proceeded to hand out large sums of cash to their children, their parents and their brothers and sisters. These relatives included a crusty granny, a young fashion-model daughter, and a vivacious blonde hairdresser (Mercia Deane-Johns) who shared salon space with her cousin - a straight male hairdresser who everyone assumed was gay. Dan's neighbour and best friend Bill Anderson was played by former The Sullivans actor Michael Caton. Bill regularly smoked marijuana to ease the on-going pain of injuries sustained during the Vietnam War, where he had fought beside Dan. Deborah Kennedy played Dan's sister Connie Reynolds, a mid-thirties divorcee struggling to raise two teenage sons on a nurse's income. She was soon given the former Taylor family home as a gift as the new millionaires move to a more salubrious neighbourhood. Meanwhile Tim Robertson was Dan's brother Jack, unhappily married to the glamorous Sarah (Anne Grigg).
The series premiered 29 January 1991. Unfortunately it quickly flopped in the ratings despite the frequent (and frequently incongruous) nude scenes, so the writers set about revamping the show. After a few months the series output was reduced from two hours a week to one, which meant the large cast needed to be drastically reduced. In quick succession many members of the original cast were written out of the series. Couples divorced and moved away. The children went off to boarding school. The divorced sister Connie left with her son to take up a new job as nursing sister at an Italian skiing resort where she would attend to frost-bitten toes and sprained ankles.
Eventually the marriage of Dan and Barbara also disintegrated. Barbara went off to work in a brothel - although only doing the books - before leaving the series. Husband Dan quietly departed soon after leaving just Michael Caton as the stoned Vietnam Vet, the sexy blonde haircutter, and Dan and Barbara's adult son Alex.
This last-mentioned character, played by Jeremy Sims, had emerged as the show's most popular character and he quickly became the new star of the series. A mercenary, sexy, and amusingly devious advertising executive, Alex was soon joined by Patsy Stephen as Angela, an assertive business partner with whom he enjoyed a love-hate relationship.
Continued low ratings prompted the show's move to a late-night timeslot while the writers threw in all sorts of crazy plotlines and weird elements to spice things up. New storylines examined man-eating plants, devil worshippers, Israeli secret agents, ghosts of the past and of the future, and a scantily-clad female angel on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Then some neo-Nazis arrived to hunt down a valuable Third Reich artifact (in Melbourne!). This sought-after bauble, the Eva Braun necklace, turns its wearer into an Egyptian Sun Goddess. Then there was the father-daughter team of inscrutable oriental villains who spoke very slowly and regularly met in darkened, mist-filled rooms to plot their latest scheme. Number 96 legend Abigail, an actress frequently called upon to spice up ailing Australian soaps, showed up as a TV sex therapist named Bambi Chute, a voluptuous blonde who proved to be a veritable expert in her field. Other storylines focused on Alex and Angela's dealings with their various advertising clients and the creation of weird and wonderful promotions.
To best understand the crazy, some might say desperate, measures employed by the series to draw in curious viewers, one must consider that by 1991 the Nine Network had suffered a solid decade of soap opera misses with the Crawford's produced The Flying Doctors (1986-1993) their solitary drama series success. The various new serials to replace The Young Doctors and The Sullivans had all been fast failures. [i]
Taurus Rising (1982) was a slick, big-budget attempt by the Grundy Organisation to emulate the then successful US dramas of greed and wealth, Dallas and Dynasty, starring Alan Cassell, Diane Craig, Annette Andre, Michael Long and Andrew Clarke. The low ratings generated by the $4.5 million filmed serial showed that Australian audiences preferred their glamour and intrigue with an American accent. [ii]
With Waterloo Station (1983) Grundy Productions looked to the success of Crawford's blend of light soap opera and police drama Cop Shop and here also threw in familiar elements of their earlier successes Sons and Daughters and The Restless Years. Here the young cast struggled with the rigours of the police training academy, their fathers were policemen, and in the many beach scenes the muscular policemen worried about their petite girlfriends following them into their dangerous profession. Possibly the show's most interesting figure was the matronly owner of the guest-house played by Jennifer West, but her presence couldn't save the series from being cancelled after three months on air. [iii]
Several of Waterloo Station's characters lived at the guest house while future intrigue was hinted-at with West's character secretly slipping banknotes from a hidden stash in the building's basement whenever the bills were due. Another cast standout was actor Steven Grives as a dashing villain who was ultimately killed in a violent police shootout. Few viewers stuck around for the final episode to learn the truth about the hidden money, and West, who seemed destined to be the next big soap diva, quickly disappeared from the television scene. Cast member Jenny Ludlum as a policeman's wife survived to act in Prisoner some years later while another cast standout Danny Roberts was quickly cast in Sons and Daughters on this show's demise. Roberts thereafter enjoyed a successful run in that serial and continued into the subsequent (but short-lived) soap The Power The Passion (1989).
Starting Out (1983), was a Grundy's produced youthful romance devised by Prisoner creator Reg Watson as a replacement for The Young Doctors about a bunch of medical students living in a cosy shared household on-campus. Leander Brett, Yves Stening, David Clencie, Nikki Coghill and Peter O'Brien played students and other youngsters while Jill Forster, Maurie Fields, Gerard Maguire, Anne Phelan and John Hamblin appeared as university professors and other oldies. Tottie Goldsmith, who played a sexy young hairdresser, was also on hand to help flesh things out. The good looking youngsters and talented seniors appearing in the poorly publicised soap attracted few fans in the 6.00 pm slot and the series was quickly cancelled due to poor ratings. [iv]
Meanwhile Kings (1983) was a gritty drama with Ed Devereaux heading a working class family living in suburban Sydney. The strong cast included Melissa Jaffer, Scott Burgess, Dennis Grosvenor, Mark Kounnas, Simon Burke, and Arna Maria Winchester. The show was the first production of PBL which had been established in 1982 specifically to package drama for Channel Nine. Each episode of this drama took two weeks to film and it was planned to premiere the series out-of-ratings to allow it to slowly build a solid audience. Unfortunately the failures of its new 1983 soaps prompted Nine to premiere Kings early, in July 1983, midway through the television season. This placed the new series in direct competition with other shows already established in the television schedules for that year. Kings failed to generate high ratings and after five weeks it was taken off air and further production halted. [v]
After the highly publicised failure of Taurus Rising, Nine, and Grundy's, tried it again with Possession (1985) a similarly slick-looking melodrama but a smaller-scale videotaped production. It featured Anne Charleston as an overdressed Dynasty-style bitch figure, Darien Takle as the wealthy and lascivious Louise Carpenter, and Maggie "Prisoner" Millar as Louise's sardonic assistant Claudia Valenti, while the key characters that started things rolling were young Jane Andrews (Tamasin Ramsay) and her childhood friend Kathleen Dawson (Tracey Callendar). The show featured many expensive possessions such as lavish country estates, flash cars, and a high fashion wardrobe, and stories focused on devious schemes, espionage, family secrets, and cunning business deals. It even had a macho action hero in the form of police detective Vince Bailey (David Reyne). Mimicking recent real-life events the first episode opened with a bungled spy-training-drill in a plush city hotel before switching to the even more frightening dramas of the preparations for Jane's country wedding. Low-ratings led to the addition of new cast members and a story revamp. Briony Behets came in as Eve Cambridge, the mother of a temperamental child-actor. Alexandra Fowler, previously of Sons and Daughters, brightened things up as mischievous rich-girl Nicola Shannon. By this stage Possession had switched to a late-night timeslot where few viewers got to see the new improved version of the show and it quietly died, though with 52 one-hour episodes produced it lasted longer than most failed Australian soaps. [vi]
Nine then turned to Crawford Productions in an attempt to turn their soap fortunes around with a new style of show that eschewed the lightweight Grundy's formula. The result was Prime Time (1986) about the behind-the-scenes action on a television current affairs program Assignment. As such Prime Time stories were a mix of standalone pieces focused on a guest characters about the investigative pieces prepared by Assignment, and the ongoing personal travails of the television station personnel and journalists, and their families. Despite the good cast that included Chris Orchard, Nina Landis, Peter Kowitz, Tony Hawkins, Ben Mendelsohn, Peter Whitford, Kylie Foster and Sonja Tallis, Prime Time (scheduled to air in the odd timeslot of Thursday and Friday evenings) slowly faded away. [vii]
Finally Family and Friends (1990) was an earnest family oriented drama built around the rather clumsy premise of a vendetta between two families - the Chandlers and the Italian-Australian Rossi clan - stemming from an incident told in flashback that occurred decades earlier.
Alan Bateman, the Head of Drama from Network Seven who had had success there with programs such as Home and Away (and instigated The Power The Passion), had moved to take up a similar position with the Nine Network in 1989. Bateman had been brought on board specifically to reverse Nine's unfortunate trend for failed drama series and soaps. Bateman recruited Bevan Lee, also from Seven and who had helped launch soaps Home and Away and Neighbours, and Family and Friends was their initial output for Nine. Despite a strong cast that included Abigail, Anne Phelan, Justine Clarke, Maxine Klibingaitis, Adrian Lee, and some good initial notices, the program quickly sank. Nine had opted to program the series against Ten's E Street and its ratings were disastrous. The series added Rebecca Rigg and Alyce Platt to the cast and moved to an earlier timeslot but ratings never recovered and Family and Friends was quickly cancelled. [viii]
After this long line of failures Channel Nine were desperate to succeed so when they took Chances they insisted that each episode contained a certain quota of nude scenes in a bid to attract publicity and viewers. In the event it attracted the former, but not the latter. The show's producers, Beyond Productions, reluctantly agreed to the nudity proviso and proceeded to make the straight family drama they originally envisioned, with the required flesh slotted-in during the early stages of each episode. That way they could get the nude scenes out of the way before getting on with the business at hand. In any event the remaining components of the show turned out to be as dull and uninspired as the nudity.
Chances was shot in Channel Nine's Melbourne studios in inner-city Richmond and cost about $110,000 per episode. It was rumoured that the producers, who had at that time only made the magazine program Beyond 2000, were making a loss on the series but were so keen to break into TV drama they continued production while absorbing this loss. [ix] Though Channel Nine did persevere with it longer than most of their other ratings flops, the show was out of production and off the air by early 1992.
Coincidentally over on Network Ten another serial, E Street, had also started as a serious and thoughtful straight drama series, and also switched to a more playful, flashy mode to boost its flagging ratings. That serial had enjoyed a successful increase in ratings as it increased the fantasy elements, but eventually burned itself out with increasingly outrageous and bizarre plot twists after four years.
In 1992 Chances screened on Sky Television in the United Kingdom. It enjoyed a late night repeat run on the channel in 1995. There have also been three different two-disc DVD releases of episodes of Chances. Each volume includes eight complete episodes, which are taken from the later, more fantasy-oriented period of the series. Volume three takes viewers up to the series finale.
Originally uploaded June 2000
Last updated 28 April 2013
[i] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 169.
[ii] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 448.
[iii] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 481-482.
[iv] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 434-435.
[v] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 250-251.
[vi] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 359-360.
[vii] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 363-364.
[viii] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 169.
[ix] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 112-113.