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Friday, April 26, 2013

All Saints - A Special Across The Pond Blog

I think that for today's edition of this blog, I'm going to resurrect a former theme day that I used a couple of years ago. As much as I enjoy planning ahead with the blog and trying new things, sometimes it's good to look back at the past and borrow ideas from it.

What I have come up with is a spotlight on a show that was not seen at all in North America, but did insanely well in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

I don't know how many of you were following this blog back in the summer of 2011, but back in those days, Wednesdays were devoted to something completely different. Most of you following this blog currently know Wednesdays as the day where I feature books, magazines, toys, and games.

But back in 2011, Wednesdays were devoted to looking at pop culture around the world. I called it “Across the Pond and Beyond”. And, it was in this space that I featured topics on media from all over the globe. Past subjects included EastEnders, Coronation Street, Paddington Bear, Takeshi's Castle, Home and Away, Neighbours, and many many more.

The reason why I decided to give up the theme at the beginning of 2012 was simple. I was running out of topics to choose from, and I decided to put the column on hiatus for the time being. It was a decision that I briefly regretted because of all the blog topics that I enjoyed the most, it was the Across the Pond ones. For one, I loved having the opportunity to share television shows, movies, musical acts, and other miscellaneous things that not a lot of people have even heard about, let alone experienced. To be able to share these gems with a larger audience is fantastic.

And, secondly, these days I am finding more television shows being made overseas are a lot better in quality and storytelling than some of the programs made in my own country or the United States. I'll be the first one to admit that I actually got hooked on EastEnders when it began airing on our PBS affiliate, and I was once so addicted to the show “Home and Away” that I began watching the episodes online as people posted them from Australia.

And, in the case of this featured television series, I stumbled upon it purely by accident while I was doing research for another blog topic. It happened to be a complete episode of the series, and I sat down and watched it. To my surprise, I enjoyed it so much that I ended up watching a whole half a season of it that same day! And, then I watched the rest of the episodes over a two week period!

And, this is surprising for me because I normally can't stand hospital dramas.

I know that ER aired on television for fifteen years, but I think that I have only watched maybe an episode and a half of it. I know it was wildly popular, but there was something about it that made me not want to watch it. The same deal would likely be said about St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope, and Presidio Med.

(That last one being a brief drama that starred Dana Delany and Blythe Danner that was cancelled after one year.)

But this hospital drama was a bit different. It was set in a Sydney, Australia hospital, and it featured a staff of doctors and nurses that worked in Ward 17. Now, Ward 17 was a ward that was affectionately known as the “garbage ward”. In actuality, it was the ward that was used for the overflow of patients whenever there wasn't a bed available in the various other wings of the hospital. This caused the staff of Ward 17 to always have unexpected days and nights, as none of them knew just what they would be getting themselves into. The patients could be unpredictable, and even violent, and yet the staff always treated them with dignity and respect...well, most of the time.

This is the television series known as “All Saints”.

All Saints” might not have run as long as ER (the show debuted in February 1998 and ran until October 2009 on Australia's Seven Network), but during its twelve season run, it was ranked within the Top 10 most watched programs in Australia. It is Australia's longest running medical drama series, and third longest running prime time series overall.

Part of the reason why “All Saints” performed so well was because of the talented cast who starred within the show. Despite the huge cast turnover throughout the years (only one original cast member stayed on the entire series), the show still had warmth, and very rarely excluded anyone.

Now, initially, the program was meant to be a starring vehicle for Australian actress Georgie Parker (who ironically enough starred in another Australian medical drama, “A Country Practice” from 1990-1992)...and the character that Georgie played on the television series is kind of a nice little play on words, given the title of the show.

All Saints” refers to the name of the hospital where the series takes place. And, the character that Georgie Parker plays, Therese Sullivan, is the Nursing Unit Manager of Ward 17.

Terri, though, has another interesting aspect to her personality. When the series began, she was a nun!

In fact, a lot of the early episodes of “All Saints” depicted the struggle that Terri went through trying to balance a career in medicine with the commitment of sisterhood. As the series progressed, we began to understand why Terri had joined the convent in the first place. It wasn't because she felt a need to serve as a nun out of duty or was because she was trying to forget a relationship that she had with someone a decade earlier that did not have a happy ending. And, for the first season, everything was fine...

...until the door to the past was blown wide open when Dr. Mitch Stevens (Erik Thomson) waltzed right back into Terri's life to become the hospital's newest physician. Needless to say, the reunion between Terri and Mitch was awkward because she was still in love with Mitch. Terri began to detach herself from the convent, eventually leaving. And, she did spend a little bit of time dating other people. But, still...she always wanted to have a life with Mitch, and by the time she realized this, Mitch had already found love with somebody else, even fathering a child with the other woman, leaving Terri visibly devastated.

But then Mitch's wife began to lose her marbles just a smidgen, and began to make Terri's life a living misery, and Mitch decided that enough was enough. He left his wife to be with Terri, and he and Terri were supposed to spend the rest of their lives together...until Mitch died of a brain tumour.

Such is the life of a medical drama...there's always someone who ends up dying on the show. Just ask Stephanie Markham (Kirrily White), Sean Everleigh (Chris Vance), and Erica Templeton (Jolene Anderson).

Oh...wait. You can't. They were all killed off the series. Oh bother.

Of course, Terri and Mitch weren't the only main characters of “All Saints”...which is good, considering that both of them were gone by season eight, and the show ran for twelve years. By the end of the series, the main characters were...

...Frank Campion (John Howard), the tough-as-nails head of the emergency department who makes his patients top priority and pushes his staff relentlessly to make sure that the patients get the best care possible.

Dr. Charlotte Beaumont (Tammy Macintosh), is second in command of the emergency department, and was introduced into the series in season five. She has had a rather interesting backstory. In a story that was similar to Terri's, Charlotte was married to a man named Vincent (Christopher Gabardi), and left him for another woman! That relationship had fizzled by the time Charlotte joined “All Saints”, but interestingly enough, Dr. Vincent Hughes joined the staff of “All Saints”, and unlike the reunion between Terri and Mitch, theirs was a little...shall we say...happier.

Charlotte and Vincent reaffirmed their friendship and stayed close. But Charlotte's time in “All Saints” was not an easy ride. She had a one-night-stand with a doctor (who at the time was having a romance with Terri), got pregnant from it, was run over by a hit-and-run driver, and lost the baby. And, in the sixth season finale when a crazed gunman began shooting people in the hospital, Charlotte tried to calm him down. Below is that confrontation, but I warn you...the scenes below are not suitable for young children.

And, that's part of the reason why I think I liked “All Saints” better than most medical dramas out there. Because the broadcast rules are slightly more lax in Australia than they are in the United States, “All Saints” could get away with a lot more stuff than ER ever could. This meant controversial storylines and more colourful language. Hell, in one episode, John Howard's character of Frank Campion dropped the F-bomb in one of his lines!

It certainly offered up a grittier approach, making the drama very realistic. The make-up department was especially fantastic on the series, as all of the injuries that people sustained on the series looked very much real!

The show also tackled some rather serious issues over the years. Nelson Curtis (Paul Tassone) struggled with the demons of alcohol addiction throughout the whole time he appeared on the series. He relapsed several times, and after his fiancee was murdered, he left All Saints fearful over possibly hurting someone else because he couldn't control himself. A similar story was told with Sterlo McCormack (Henry Nixon), who became addicted to painkillers and drugs following being shot in the season six finale.

The show also tackled the subject of racism when Jessica Singleton (Natalie Saleeba) was forced to confront her biggest fears after having to deal with a patient who was a white surpremacist.

Jared Levine (Ben Tari) began as a nurse with a privileged background, and was mostly a supporting character. But when he was sexually violated in an attack, and Charlotte caught him trying to cure a disease he contracted as a result of the attack, Jared found it difficult to keep it together. Watch below, keeping in mind that again, this is not meant for younger viewers.

And, then there's Von...

Von Ryan (Judith McGrath) is the only character to last the entire run of the series, and during the twelve years that she was on the show, her character was more or less the same. She does not take too kindly to drama, whining, or laziness, but if you ever needed someone in your corner, she was definitely the one that you really wanted on your side.

The show also tackled the subject of suicide...only in the case of “All Saints”, the issue was brought up off screen, as one of the members of the cast took his own life in the summer of 2008.

Actor Mark Priestley played the role of Dan Goldman, a nurse with a winning personality who became interested in a career in nursing due to his attraction to blood and gore. On the show, Dan was destined for a happy ending as he had gotten married to his on-screen love, Erica Templeton. The episode aired on August 26, 2008.

One day later, Mark Priestley was found dead.

On August 27, 2008, Priestley's body was found on an awning at the Swissotel in Sydney, Australia. He had checked into the hotel that day under a different name, and jumped from a window of the hotel several stories up that afternoon. It was later revealed that Priestley had been suffering from depression for several years, having gone for treatment to ease the symptoms prior to his death.

He died just a few days after he turned 32.

Mark's character of Dan Goldman continued to air well into November 2008, as Priestly had taped several episodes of the series before he passed away. In a rather eerie manner, the final storyline that Dan was involved in dealt with the tragic murder of his wife, Erica, and presumably his last scene showed the police giving him the terrible news.

The show was retooled three different times during its run. For the first six and a half years, the show was set at Ward 17, but because of a slip in the ratings caused by the departure of Thomson's Mitch Stevens, the show was retooled and the action shifted to the emergency department. Then at the beginning of the show's twelfth and final season, the show included the medical response unit in its storylines.

Here's the shocking part. “All Saints” benefited from these changes. Ratings improved on both stints. In fact, “All Saints” was still getting decent ratings at the time of its cancellation. Unfortunately, running a show like “All Saints” was a huge cost to Seven Network, and Seven made the decision to put their backing on the comedy-drama series “Packed to the Rafters”...ironically enough starring Erik Thompson!

So, the final episode of “All Saints” aired on October 27, 2009, appropriately enough with Von Ryan retiring from her position.

So, that's my look back on “All Saints”...a show that really should have aired in North America. Take my word for it, if you can get past the Australian accents and have a strong stomach for gore and swear words, you'll love this one!

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