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The Power The Passion

1989 - 168 x 30 minute episodes - Produced by the Seven Network

Contents

Previous Daytime Dramas

Concept and Inception

Characters and Story

Ratings and Reception

The End

The Power The Passion is the only Australian drama since 1975 that was specifically produced for screening during the day. The series was part of an attempt by Channel Seven to break Channel Nine's monopoly on daytime audiences. Seven devised The Bert Newton Show to compete with Nine's The Ray Martin Show, while The Power The Passion provided an alternative to Nine's US soaps Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless. The Power The Passion began on air 20 March 1989. [1]

The series emphasised bitchiness and business schemes, secrets and intrigue. The show looked bright and airy, in contrast to the generally sumptuous but gloomy interiors favoured by US daytime dramas. It boasted a good technical standard and an excellent cast. The Power The Passion was produced in house by the Seven Network, and taped at the HSV7 studios in South Melbourne.

Unfortunately, up against the popular The Ray Martin Show, it emerged as a ratings disaster. The Power The Passion was cancelled within the year.

Previous Daytime Dramas

There had actually been four previous daytime serials in Australia. Like this one all were on Channel Seven, all but one was produced in house by Seven, and all were relatively short lived.

Autumn Affair (1958) was Australia's first ever television soap opera and it was shown at 9.00 a.m. each weekday morning. The show had a small cast of six regular characters and the storyline concentrated on a romantic triangle involving a woman and two men. [2]

Like radio serials the show did not involve multiple perspectives; it remained focused on a single character, played by Muriel Steinbeck. Like its radio counterparts each episode of the show was fifteen minutes in length. Autumn Affair featured the absolute minimum of sets or camera movements but a lot of talk, and employed such economic measures as having the main characters engage in telephone conversations where major plot points would be revealed but the character on the other end of the phone remained unseen. Not a big success the show lasted 156 episodes. [3]

Likewise The Story of Peter Grey (1961) was basically a radio style serial taped for television. The show featured just four main characters who did a lot of talking and little else on the show's two sets. James Condon had a leading role as a clergyman in the series that lasted for 164 fifteen minute episodes. [4] Among the other cast members were Thelma Scott and Lynne Murphy, later to end up in Number 96.

Meanwhile Motel (1968) was a Crossroads-style serial set in a motel on the highway between Sydney and Canberra and featured such actors as Bruce Barry, Ross Higgins, Harold Hopkins, Brenda Senders, Brian James, Jack Thompson, Stuart Finch, Noel Trevarthen and Jill Forster. They played the owners of the motel, the members of their extended family, motel workers and others in the district, while the proximity to Canberra allowed the occasional politician guest and political intrigue. This ambitious effort had a cast of thirteen regulars and required three days in the studio each week. Each episode of Motel ran thirty minutes and the show screened at midday four days a week with the episode repeated late at night. It departed from the earlier, radio soap formula by featuring the more modern format of multiple characters and narratives in an interwoven series of ongoing storylines, but remained talky nonetheless. The black and white series lasted 135 episodes. [5]

Finally Until Tomorrow (1975) was produced by The Reg Grundy Organisation and was a copy of the prolific US daytime soaps. Five half hour episodes, generally consisting of much talk and little action, were screened each week. The show was produced in colour and taped in Brisbane and lasted 180 episodes. [6]

Concept and Inception

Bevan Lee came up with the concept of the The Power The Passion which had come about as part of the Seven Network's planned overhaul of its afternoon programming and commitment to Australian content. The first five episodes - produced as a sort of week-long pilot - were being put together in September 1988. [7]

The Ray Martin Show was a big success on Nine, and Seven worked hard devising competitors. Apparently Seven's original plans for the slot had involved Clive Robertson. In late 1988 he made a pilot for a revamped version of panel show Beauty and the Beast, but this idea was rejected in favour of Newton and The Power The Passion. [8]

Writing for The Age Green Guide, Sian Watkins reported that at the Seven production office the telephone would be answered "Power 'n' Passion". Despite this the producer John Holmes insisted the show was no send up while conceding he thought the concept was a "hoot". Holmes had faith in the show's format and daytime slot, explaining that afternoon programming achieves fairly respectable ratings, while pointing to the success of lunchtime serials produced in the United States. Of The Power The Passion he said:

"It's something to look at as well as being a good yarn. It's real situations in fantastic settings. It's Mills and Boon stuff."

Holmes also gleefully described the character of Kathryn, the ice queen psychiatrist who at night switches personality to become Jennifer, a sultry, sleazy nightclub singer.

The week long pilot went before the Seven board in October 1988 for approval, with plans for full time production to commence in November. There was a regular cast of 15, and a production staff of about 60 people - most of these coming from Seven staff.

Watkins reported that with a lower budget than that normally allocated to prime time drama, The Power The Passion had less rehearsal time, no location taping, and less post production polish. Nevertheless, according to Holmes, much effort had gone into making the show look good. There was elaborate set construction, good lighting, and sumptuous costumes courtesy of Myer. "It looks very good. Just as good as the night time stuff," Holmes said.

John Holmes' credentials certainly seemed in order. He had worked for the Reg Grundy Organisation as producer on Sons and Daughters for two years before helping to set up Neighbours. He was then producer on Home and Away at its inception, retaining his position on that successful teen soap as The Power The Passion got underway. He said that the intended audience of The Power The Passion was women at home.

"If you've got a good yarn, and it's well produced and directed, you'll get people interested. It will be a bite-sized, viable alternative at lunchtime. It's a bit of fantasy, something to do the ironing by." [9]

(In 1986, Fresno, a five episode US comedy miniseries that parodied evening soap operas like Dallas and Dynasty, had been billed as "the power, the passion, the produce." Fresno, about a feud between two wealthy families whose fortunes were made in the raisin business, was an MTM Production starring Carol Burnett. [10] Also, that series was meant to be the butt of jokes!)

Early on, however, Seven's Head of Drama Alan Bateman left the Network to take the position of Head of Drama on the Nine Network, taking John Holmes along with him. The Power The Passion was assigned to Oscar Whitbread to produce. [11]

Characters and Story

The Power The Passion was much like a small scale version of Sons and Daughters with wealth, glamour, and intrigue. The series featured outrageous storylines concerning psychological problems, devious schemes, and big business. These were interwoven with more standard family, romance, and domestic problems.

The main storyline is built around three sisters; glamorous bitch Anna Wright (Susie Cato), neurotic psychiatrist Kathryn Byrne (Tracey Tainsh) and the middle class Ellen Edwards (Olivia Hamnett). Old enmities are revived by the return to Australia of their despised father, international businessman Gordon Byrne, played by former Carson's Law star Kevin Miles. Needless to say the relationship between father and daughters was troubled and complex.

Ellen is married to Dr Andrew Edmonds (Allan Cassell) and they have a brood of teenage children. They are handsome medical student Kane (Julian McMahon in his television debut), the sporty and similarly hunky Adam (Neil Grant), university student Danielle (Lucinda Cowden) who would become involved in drugs, and the adopted Talia (Susan Ellis).

Anna was unhappily married to the villainous businessman Justin Wright (George Mallaby). Justin's children from a previous marriage were Samuel (Daniel Roberts) and Rebecca (Libby Purvis). Anna soon fell for the much younger and very hunky Nick Cassala (Nick Caraffra) who was thought of as a gigolo. Anna meanwhile was plotting to get her hands on Gordon's fortune. When Samuel caught Anna in bed with Nick he blackmailed his step mother into including him in her money making scheme.

Kathryn harboured the strongest resentment for Gordon. When he had originally travelled overseas he took Kathryn's love, Ryan McAllister (Ian Rawlings), along as his protégé. Kathryn was, as described in dialogue, "frigid", but loved Ryan who insisted he would wait until her recovery. Kathryn's other problem was the evil alternate personality that popped up in times of stress.

Waiting at the Toorak mansion was Gordon's faithful servant and Ryan's mother Sarah McAllister (Jill Forster). Sarah had been maid to Gordon's late wife Martha and was a repository of family secrets. Viewers soon learned that before her death Martha had begged Sarah to avenge the years of indignity she had suffered as Gordon's wife.

Meanwhile Ross Thompson who previously played the dull Robert Carson in Carson's Law was Thomas, the sly and all-knowing head waiter of Gordon's club. Also on hand was Jane Clifton - well known for her singing exploits and for playing Margo Gaffney in Prisoner - as aggressive newspaper journalist Carla Graham. Carla was soon embroiled in sly schemes orchestrated by Gordon.

At the time Clifton spoke to Melbourne's The Sun newspaper about the role of Carla.

"It's a great chance for me to bury Margo. Carla is a larger-than-life character who would kill for a story - if she wanted a story from a doctor she would pose as a patient. Even though I've been interviewed heaps of times I've never met anyone like her. She dresses to the hilt and journalists are not notorious for snappy dressing. I'm not basing her on anyone but I might have a lot of lunches to find out what happens." [12]

Perhaps the most outrageous storyline was Kathryn's dual personality disorder. Waking up after a visit from her alternate personality Kathryn was horrified to discover a note from her alter ego reading "I'm back you frigid bitch!" The line quickly became a popular catchphrase - at least amongst the cast and crew. [13] In a crowded photograph of cast and crew still displayed in the front window of Melbourne restaurant Mamma Vittoria's as of 2009, a large placard baring that line provides the main hint as to the identity of the group.

Kevin Miles made a hasty exit from the series after only a few months on air. His character Gordon was killed off leaving the remaining characters to squabble over his estate. The show's business deals and small scale board meetings in the sumptuous drawing rooms of residential mansions recalled similar moments in Sons and Daughters. Like that show the board members - all of whom were regular cast members of the show - would then rush off to tend to their squabbling teenage brood or to jet overseas to rescue comrades from military coups (off camera.)

At one point the program even included a gay male character, Steven (Joseph Spano), but the character was killed off after a few months. [14]

Ratings and Reception

In a review of the debut episode, columnist Peter Luck observed that for a series promising "unbridled lust and business thrust" it had a "peculiarly wimpy little theme and title". He observed that while this was all meant as a "ridiculous romp", early scenes were merely "ridiculous", though there were a few "nice touches" like the mad psychiatrist. Of the cast he noted that the women were all just about right and that Tainsh as the psychiatrist was "suitably flaky". However, few of the men impressed:

"The much publicised Julian McMahon is clearly in this one for the training and not acting and the others are totally forgettable except for the lead, Kevin Miles, who is suitably bloated and evil." [15]

The Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Doug Anderson summed the show up as:

"Nineteen minutes of assembly line tosh, four minutes of opening and closing credits and six minutes of ads. Snack-sized pieces of flummery for those who enjoy a light, sugar-free lunch." [16]

Unfortunately the writing was on the wall for The Power The Passion when the first episode attracted disappointing ratings, which sank even lower as the first week progressed. The series opened in Sydney on five points and by Thursday had dropped to two while its competitor, The Ray Martin Show, reached a peak of 14. The Melbourne results were similar. There The Power The Passion opened on a four and dropped to one and two points by Thursday. Martin peaked at 11 during that half-hour. [17]

For the week of 17-21 April 1989 The Ray Martin Show was running from peaks of 13 to a low of nine. The Bert Newton Show never got above three points, spending most of the week on two. The Power The Passion at 1.00 p.m. was steady on two points but dropped to one on Thursday, when The Ray Martin Show was again running on 13. The Ten network at the time ran a string of US daytime soap operas and repeats of Dallas, finishing second in the ratings. [18]

This afternoon lineup on Ten in Sydney and Melbourne featured the US serials Santa Barbara, The Bold and the Beautiful (at 1.00 p.m., against The Power The Passion), followed by One Life to Live. Then came repeats of Dallas, followed by repeats of Australian soap opera Richmond Hill that had been cancelled the previous year.

Soon The Ray Martin Show started soap opera parody A Town Like Dallas written by and featuring future Big Brother host Gretel Killeen. According to Ray Martin, his show's ratings swelled when the spoof soap came on. "We were rating 17 and The Power The Passion was on a two," Martin told TV Week. [19]

Inevitably these low ratings quickly led to the demise of The Power The Passion; it ended production after eight months and 168 thirty minute episodes. In Sydney by July 1989 the failing serial was moved to the graveyard 11.30 p.m. slot to play out its remaining episodes. In Melbourne The Power The Passion left the air altogether in mid-July. It resurfaced there in the last week of September, at 11.30 p.m. weekday evenings, where it played out the accumulated episodes until the end of the year. When The Power The Passion vacated its original 1.00 p.m. slot The Bert Newton Show had expanded from 60 to 90 minutes to fill the gap.

The End

At the end the characters faced financial ruin in a stock market crash, only to find that their sole remaining business interest was controlled by the dastardly Justin, by now in league with the scheming Carla. Ryan and Rebecca are destined for a new life in the outback, helping Aboriginal communities. Kathryn's psychological problems had now been cured. She was by now showing signs of business acumen and integrity that could serve the company well for its planned future recovery.

Now that Anna was poor, her young beau Nick (by now played by Dominic Sweeney) finally found the freedom to propose marriage without accusations of being a gold digging gigolo. With this his disapproving mother Liliana (Christine Karman) finally relented, giving her blessing to the union.

It all ends with the entire cast of characters at the Toorak mansion. With the villains Carla and Justin shown the door after a business meeting the remaining characters, now all "poor", could finally be happy. With Sarah McAllister reunited with her love William Somerset (Jon Finlayson), Ryan and Kathryn's romance and business relationship looking healthy and Anna's wedding to Nick imminent there is plenty to celebrate. Ryan closes the story with a happy toast, to "the future."


Originally uploaded October 2000

Last updated 23 November 2013

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[1] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 360-1.

[2] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 65-6.

[3] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 65-6.

[4] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 436.

[5] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 299-301.

[6] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 472-3.

[7] Watkins, Sian. "Lunchtime Lathering." The Age Green Guide. 29 September 1988, page 4.

[8] Dennis, Anthony. "Idiot Box Blues." The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 November 1988, page 29.

[9] Watkins, Sian. "Lunchtime Lathering." The Age Green Guide. 29 September 1988, page 4.

[10] The residents of raisin capital will get their revenge. The Union Democrat, Sonora. 30 July 1986, page 5c.

[11] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 360-1.

[12] The Sun News-Pictorial . 4 January 1989, page 10.

[13] Mercado, Andrew. Super Aussie Soaps. Pluto Press Australia: North Melbourne, 2004, page 285.

[14] Keith Howes. "Gays of Our Lives". Outrage. Number 177, February 1998, pages 38-49.

[15] Luck, Peter. "Luck on Bert, Logies and lust." The Sydney Morning Herald: The Guide. 27 March 1989, page 8s.

[16] Anderson, Doug. "On the air" column. The Sydney Morning Herald. 23 March 1989, page 26.

[17] Oliver, Robin. "No free lunch for Bert Newton." The Sydney Morning Herald. 30 March 1989, page 9.

[18] Oliver, Robin. "Ratings point." The Sydney Morning Herald - The Guide. 24 April 1989, page 7s.

[19] Mercado, Andrew. Super Aussie Soaps. Pluto Press Australia: North Melbourne, 2004, page 285.