A scene from episode two.
A scene from episode two. Jon Love

Coast-inspired Seachange returns with multigenerational cast

IT'S TV history that 20 years ago head writer and executive producer Deb Cox created a series about leaving the rat-race and moving to the Coast.

The show was ABC smash hit Seachange - the story of lawyer Laura Gibson (Sigrid Thornton), on the brink of turning 40, who leaves Melbourne with her kids for a better life in a Coastal town after the breakup of her marriage.

Twenty years later it is back on our screens, changing both networks and filming location and now Laura is looking down the barrel of 60, job loss, another failed marriage, dealing with parenting adult children, possible grandparenthood and in the midst of all that trying to find herself again.

While the first series was filmed in Victoria for the ABC, this time around it was moved to the area that originally inspired both Cox's move and her show - the Northern Rivers.

For the past few months a crew has been hard at work filming at various locations around Far Northern NSW from Billinudgel to Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads while fans have been star-spotting as far north as Kingscliff.

For Executive Producer Fiona Eagger, and co-CEO of Every Cloud Productions with show originator Deb Cox, it was a chance to come north for the autumn and winter and enjoy some sunshine. It was also a chance to be part of one of her business partner's most famous shows - not that they haven't already got an impressive list of collaborations headed by the highly successful Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

"I'm in Sydney at the moment and I have been in Melbourne - after being in the Northern Rivers for the past three months it's a bit chilly," she laughed as we chat on the phone a week out from the show's debut.

"My son has been working on the crew and he went swimming last weekend up there."

However, she said filming in Northern Rivers seemed like the natural thing to do this time and not just for the better weather.

"Seachange originally came about 20 years ago when Deb Cox was trying to have her own sea change to Byron Bay," Fiona said.

"She had hoped to film the original show on the Northern Rivers but 20 years ago it was too difficult. There wasn't enough crew in the area, and it would have been expensive - more than the budget could have allowed. Plus the ABC's studios were in Gordon Street in Melbourne and so the sets for the pub and other interiors were in the ABC."

So instead, places like Barwon Heads became Pearl Bay in 1998 for the first three series. However, Fiona said with "ScreenWorks (a regional film, television and digital media office supporting the local screen industry) in the Northern Rivers and so many more creatives" here now Deb's original dream could be fulfilled. In fact, for many of the production staff, including Deb Cox who still lives in Byron, they didn't even have to leave home to film.

Eagger said there had been a lot of community support to help bring what is a multigenerational show to the screen. While this is the first time in Pearl Bay for Eagger, there are plenty of old (and new faces) on and off screen including Sigrid Thornton who returns as Laura, along with Kerry Armstrong and Bob Howard as the Jellys and Kevin Harrington as the laconic and loveable Kevin Findlay.

However, this time around this is really about three Gibson women, who span three generations, and a chance to explore turning 60 and looking to explore the next challenge while dealing with offspring who are still inter-dependent and frequently boomeranging to the family base, determined to thrash out the faults in their upbringing, Eagger said.

"When we were young we couldn't wait to leave home but it's not the same now," Eagger said.

She said Laura was turning 60 with adult children - a daughter (Miranda played this time by Brooke Satchwell) heading to 40 and a younger daughter (Stella who was only hinted at in the final episode of series three and now played by Ella Newton) turning 20.

Eagger observed Laura's journey was about parenting her now grown children "working at that age and still being a mother and dealing with the idea of possibly being a grandmother as well". And she's no longer escaping the rat-race but the whole world, searching for what she once had.

She said, just like the original series, at its heart Seachange was also about "community, about getting along in a small town despite different pollical views". Of course these days this is complicated by coastal erosion.

The new Seachange has a large multigenerational ensemble cast combining the old favourites with newcomers and it's hoped that this will encourage a multigenerational viewing audience of old fans and new - something that isn't as prevalent now as it was back when the show first began in 1998.

"There will be new characters too and we hope the audience grows and expands as the new series does," Eaggers said.

Seachange screens Tuesdays at 8.45pm on Nine/NBN after The Block.   


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