Emmerdale has reached new heights since the beginning of the year with story peaks that have included Mark Wylde's murder, Sally Spode's evil revenge on village vicar Ashley Thomas and Aaron's attempted suicide. Now firmly back on soap fans' viewing agenda, ITV's rural serial prepares for a dramatic second half of the year which sees the arrival of Pauline Quirke's character Hazel, Mark Wylde's body being discovered, Holly's drug habit spiralling out of control and heaps more. In our final Producer Season 2010 interview, Digital Spy catches up with series producer Gavin Blyth to learn more about what's to come in the months ahead.
Can you confirm that Danny Miller is staying with Emmerdale for the foreseeable future?
"I can! I'm already planning Aaron's story for spring 2011, so I'm delighted to say that Danny will be sticking around."
Where do Aaron and Jackson go from here?
"I don't want to make it a bed of roses for them from the off. There has to be a truth in it. They move forward as a couple but Aaron's journey continues - he'll not readily settle into a romantic situation immediately, he'll be tested and questions asked of him en route as to how he feels as he and Jackson get closer. It wouldn't be true if it was all too easy - and it won't be. The arrival of Jackson's mum Hazel adds another dimension to their story and the lads are already looking forward to working with Pauline Quirke as much as I am! Then we go into autumn/winter and there's one hell of a story coming their way."
Can you tell us any more?
"They're involved on and off in a third-hand way with Holly's drug story but that's all about friendship and helping friends. Aaron and Jackson's story, however, is one in their own right… It'll be quite something… It starts with an extension of where they are now and is borne out of who Aaron is. He is who he is and he has a temper. He blames those closest to him and pushes them away, even though it's not intentional. He doesn't know when he's on to a good thing… something he may live to regret."
Pauline Quirke was quite a coup - how did you manage to get her on board?
"I'm a huge fan of Pauline. She's someone who I could picture in the show. We met up for a coffee and chatted about character and story that would see her involved in the Aaron and Jackson story now and going forward. She has loved how that story has played out and we got on tremendously well. By the end of it, she'd decided that Emmerdale was right for her - and I was delighted to hear her say it!"
What can you tell us about Hazel?
"Hazel will be a character in her own right, not just bolted on to Aaron and Jackson. We get to understand who she is, what makes her tick and gain an insight into Jackson's past. She'll obviously then become involved in Aaron and Jackson's story at the start of winter. One that none of them see coming."
Ratings appear to have slipped a little since the beginning of the year… Are you concerned that the show's not maintained an audience above 7m?
"It's not a concern at all as we're usually so close to it. We hit our high - as pretty much every soap did - in those bleak winter months at the beginning of the year. We now have to be sensible in our expectations and some of our audience shares over the last couple of months have been equal and sometimes even better than the January shares. Audiences peak and trough. Aside from the World Cup, our audience is up around 8-10% year-on-year in viewing figures and now we're into the warmer months, all soaps plateau. What we've achieved ratings-wise over the last year has been nothing short of an achievement. But that said, I maintain my ambition to continue building the Emmerdale audience."
Where do Cain and Charity go from here?
"Across this year, we'll start to see Cain and Charity go forward independently. With Emma's initial return, we had to shape a story that fitted the length of time she was back with us for but now she's staying, Cain and Charity will start to drive their own stories. That'll be shown across the summer with Cain and across autumn/winter with Charity. With Charley [Webb] going on maternity leave, we have to shelve one story that was going to play out. But in the months and year ahead, Charity and Cain will prove what great characters they truly are."
When does Charley return?
"She'll be back filming with us around early September and Debbie returns to an absolutely terrific story which takes us into uncharted territory."
When can we expect to see Ryan in more storylines? His fans don't appear to be best pleased about his apparent lack of storylines…
"James loves everything we've given him and to be fair, he's barely been off screen since he came in. Ryan's nearly slept with his sister and has suffered the loss of his father, having discovered that his father wasn't dead in the first place. He's been pretty central! Everybody takes their turn at the centre of the show and across autumn and winter, he'll be very much back there. We'll see the underbelly of Ryan in a way that we've not seen before in terms of revelations and story payoffs.
"At the same time, both James and Ryan have been here for about a year and they have to settle in as an everyday character of the village. It can't all be full-on Ryan episode after episode. There's a long way to go with Ryan still anyway. James is with us for a long time - his journey's barely begun."
Apparently Holly's drug storyline starts spiralling out of control towards the end of the year…
"It does. This is a serious, true story about cocaine and heroin. What I didn't want to do was to run a three-week storyline which sees an addition, discovery and cure in such a short space of time - that's not what happens in real life. Holly's a young girl living a teenage life and her addiction becomes severe. Social use turns to addiction and the real story behind this is how parents in 2010 cope - or not - with this sort of situation and then how they deal with it. It's a trying journey for John and Moira – and all the family. We're working very, very closely with drugs counsellors and ex-drug users to ensure that everything's right."
On a lighter note, how about signing Joan Collins or Linda Robson as Nana Barton?
"(Laughs) Nana Barton's in the wings and waiting like the Sharma parents! She will arrive but we're not even close to saying 'when', so we're definitely not close to saying 'who'!"
Some fans still think that the older characters aren't used enough…"All the older character are enormously important to the show and they'll never be undervalued by me. With Richard and Paula's temporary absence we have had to adapt as we go, and there's sometimes nothing we can do to prevent things like that. They're both back with us now and are in terrific health, so I'm as keen to see them as much as possible. Edna's never been away and Pearl's constantly there alongside Paddy and Aaron – a relationship I for one really enjoy."
Do you have any plans for a cross-village storyline - like the chemical spill - which will see unlikely characters get the chance to interact?
"I love storylines like that because it brought the richness to screen of our characters interacting. It's difficult to do those kind of storylines because of the way we schedule the filming of six episodes but there are a couple of things planned for the winter which for good - and for bad - will bring the community together…"
Are there any big stunts planned?
"Yes, we have a couple of rather spectacular things for the winter - a couple of juicy scenarios that we're planning for this year and 2011. But I am a great believer that these things shouldn't be spectacular for spectacular's sake. There has to be a real story going in to them – and an even bigger one coming out."
What's the latest on Emmerdale filming in HD?
"It's the way that all of television is going and we're no different. Plans are under way and we should be able to tell you more in the near future."
10 Cryptic Teasers
§ "The titles are a changing…" We hope to have a fresh and contemporary look in the months ahead but always remaining true to the show's origins. These are already under way and it's something we are very much looking forward to.
§ We'll be seeing a lot more of Declan in the months ahead – and some more of his family may not be far behind him. Some very exciting changes are in store for the village.
§ Adam is set to find his head turned, by not one but two women. But will his dangerous game come with a price?§ Zak, Lisa and Sam will find themselves needing to pull together like never before when their lives are rocked in a way they couldn't have predicted. The strength of that family will shine through like never before…
§ Nicola's in for a shock – but for Jimmy, some things are best left forgotten. Will she be left fighting for her man?
§ Val and Pollard face a fascinating future when a fresh-faced stranger takes a shine to the pair.
§ Marlon and Paddy's friendship faces it's toughest test yet in the autumn and winter. But will they pull through or will their loyalties lie elsewhere?§ Are Laurel and Ashley set for some family happiness – or will the events of the last year yet take their toll?
§ Victoria bonds with an enigmatic visitor – but is there more than meets the eye?
§ Is Bob destined for love or heartbreak as he finds himself ready for his first relationship since Viv?
Loads of 'Emmerdale' teasers from Gavin Blyth
Are there any plans to give the Sharmas a storyline of their own?
"Absolutely. We'll learn a lot more about Nikhil's life in the weeks and months from now. From then, both Jai and Nikhil have their own stories. Come autumn/winter, Jai starts mixing with a very big character and crossing others and likewise, Nikhil steps out after being affected by events across the summer and finds himself in a completely different place come the end of the year."
What about the Sharma parents?
"There's always the notion that we can and will see them but I've always said that I don't want to bring in a lot of characters for the sake of bringing in new faces. Every character has to justify their place and we already have a large cast. I'd rather focus on the great cast and characters we have than to just introduce parents for the sake of it. Maybe after the end of the year we'll meet their parents. When they do arrive they will bring a great dynamic to that family - but all in due course."
Priya's departure caused a bit of a stir among fans…
"She left at the end of her contract. We brought in two brothers and a sister with the intention - from the outset - that the brothers would go forward and run the factory alone. There was nothing untoward about her departure at all."
"The Wyldes will drive the summer months. Mark's body will be found and it's anything but straightforward for the whole family. I always said that I didn't want Mark's body lying there for a year, so the reveal is just around the corner. The audience at times will know more that some of our characters, there'll be more than a few secrets and cruel, underhand behaviour. All combined, it's just terrific. The story will twist and turn through summer and into autumn to quite a payoff come September/October."
Katie was a fairly big character but her screentime has reduced significantly over the last year…
"Katie fits so well into the village. Frienships and relationships are just as important as story in my opinion as the audience has to believe what they're watching. With characters like Katie, Leyla, Gennie and Chas, their friendships are pivotal. Katie will be seen more across the summer then into the winter, we see her stepping up a gear when she - and some of her friends - find themselves at the centre of some unwanted attention… Further to that, Katie indulges in a new romance that throws up more than a few questions."
"Diane's story with Charlie takes a huge turn in the coming months… I love to throw in the odd surprise, though, so you'll have to wait and see what happens to her and The Woolpack."
"We need to deal with the demons that Andy has with Jo - I don't think they've ever been truly paid off. I want him to face those demons head on and he might lose a little in the process. He might have to voice the word 'sorry' at some point – and not before time. Then when Debbie returns, we revisit the history of their relationship in a way that few will see coming."
Have we seen the last of Sally Spode?
"Who knows?! She was such a great villain and she went away claiming that she was carrying Ashley's child. Was she lying? We'll see… It's left nicely open with the question nicely hanging – will she return? It's one we'd only revisit very carefully because going back to any story only works if you have a fresh enough take on it the second time around. I don't think we could reach the heights we did the first time around – but that isn't to say it couldn't be equally great. It's just about remembering that any sequel you make has to be as good as the first."
Leyla's sister Alicia
"Alicia's arrival will keep David and Leyla at the centre of the show, giving them a new dimension. Alicia's like holding a mirror up to Leyla and you see what Leyla used to be. She's the rougher underside and is everything that Leyla managed to shake off. Both sisters carry some feeling towards each other and are both harbouring family secrets, which inevitably come to the fore. The reveals certainly make their lives interesting and Alicia will bring her own take on life to the village and villagers."
"He continues to be his rather evil, loathsome self. As the net starts to close in on his mum and everything he holds dear – namely money – we see him sink to a new low in a desperate bid to keep everything together."
Chas and Carl
"It would be a brave or stupid man who tests Chas – and Carl seems determined to give it a go. But you mess with Chas at your peril and he may be advised to sleep with one eye open if she finds out what he is up to. One thing is for sure, the Chas of old will make unmissable viewing – building bridges with Aaron, pairing up with Charity and firmly stamping herself at the centre of the show with a very fresh future. Whether that will be with or without Carl remains to be seen…"