“We’re going to do everything we have to do — in front of and behind the camera — to make sure that we’re delivering a consistent series,” Lauren Anderson, head of AVOD original content and programming for Amazon Studios, tells Variety.
“A few signals are that cast members are coming back, so we’re able to welcome what the show has been from a production value standpoint, from a casting and talent standpoint, and producers behind the scenes,” says Anderson, noting that cast members Stefan Dennis, Alan Fletcher, Jackie Woodburne and Ryan Moloney will all return.
“We are continuing the show to at least the same level of what audiences have loved for 37 years. The most important thing to us is to make sure that those who love the show already continue to love the show.”
Amazon dropped a bombshell in November when it revealed that the iconic Australian soap had found a new home on the streamer’s AVOD platform Freevee.
News of “Neighbours’” cancellation broke in March after its primary funder, U.K. broadcaster Channel 5, pulled out of the show citing a scheduling shake-up. Though the show’s producer and distributor Fremantle had been holding talks with prospective new partners, a frontrunner had yet to materialize by the time the series finale aired in late July. The Freevee pick-up came almost four months after the show ended, as many fans had just about lost hope that the soap would ever return.
“At that point that the show ended, we did not know that we could save it,” says Shahina O’Mahoney, head of licensed content for Amazon Freevee U.K. “In an ideal world, maybe you do announce something like that before it ends, but that wasn’t an option for us.”
The London-based O’Mahoney describes “quite a shock” back in March upon hearing the show was ending. “[It aired for] 37 years and was such a stalwart of the U.K. broadcast landscape. I was really surprised. Then we saw the fan and customer reaction, and it just grew and grew and grew.”
The outpouring among grieving fans was enough to convince the Freevee team that they should look into saving the program, says O’Mahoney. “It was almost irresponsible not to look into it.” she quips.
Yet launching a soap on a streaming service is “no small matter,” admits the long-time Amazon executive. Though Freevee has some experience launching a daily show on the service thanks to “Judge Judy” spin-off “Judy Justice,” which premiered in November 2021, a scripted proposition is vastly different.
Freevee, which plans to air “Neighbours” in the second half of 2023, will premiere the show exclusively, for free, in the U.K. and U.S. The platform has also bought streaming rights to 2,000-plus episodes from the previous seasons, which will be available prior to the new series’ premiere. “Neighbours” will also stream on SVOD counterpart Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. (Australia’s Network 10, the home of “Neighbours” for 36 years, will retain first-run rights in the country.)
So, why is “Neighbours” launching on Freevee and not Prime Video? Anderson explains that there are “two realities” at play.
“[It was about] understanding that a show like this is obviously huge in the U.K. and Australia but we know there’s an opportunity elsewhere, so how do we bring the whole of Amazon together to make this work for customers globally?” she says. “That was the beauty of having a service that’s both in front of and behind the paywall: we could offer it both to Freevee customers who may have a Prime Video subscription but may not, and also offer the show to customers in territories where Freevee hasn’t launched yet.”
Freevee is currently up and running in the U.K., U.S. and Germany.
The new season is currently in pre-production, with more concrete story details set to be worked out by the end of Q1 next year, promises Anderson.
“What we’re moving through is what do we want the arc of the first season to be? How do we create a world that’s at once a continuation and also the start of something new?” says the executive. “Because that’s essentially it: the storyline in a lot of ways is going to mirror what’s happening with the series. It’s a continuation, but it’s in a new place.”