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edenstreet.net talk to E Street writer Alexa Wyatt

E Street - Chris, Megan and Abby meet their end

How and when did you become involved with E Street and what was your role on the show?

I was involved from near the beginning, being hired as a storyliner just after the first ep went to air in Australia. That would have been 1989, and I was 23. I then went on to be trained as a script editor, wrote episodes, became senior script editor, and then left the show to go freelance, before moving on to work on other shows. I was definitely not around for the crazy stuff which signalled the end - the werewolf stories and everything - my partner actually had to write the werewolf ep, poor thing.

What was a typical E Street day like for you? Did you work at the studios or from home?

The script office moved several times, and only once in those moves was it actually in the same building as where the show was shot (we moved studios once too). Most of the time we were in the office, but if editors had a rewrite or script of their own they did it from home as you get less interruptions.

Who were your favourite characters to write for and any particular reasons why?

Alice - you could give her all the witty lines and know that Marianne would deliver them. I also enjoyed writing the love "quadrangle" which evolved between Toni, Nikki, Max and CJ - there were lots of chances for humour and fun there too (I really had to dredge those names out of the memory bank!)

The Sonny Bennett story saw the rise of E Street, it had such an impact on the public. What was it like developing that stuff and writing out so many cast members; Chris, Megan, Abby, Kim and Sonny?

Ah yes, that was pretty amazing stuff. He was brought in largely for the reason to shake up the show and get rid of a lot of characters in one fell swoop who weren't really working for us anymore. Although can you believe I remember having an argument with the EP and creator, Forrest Redlich, who also wanted to blow up the Chris and Megan's baby in the car bomb! The whole department was saying "you can't blow up a baby!!!" and he was saying "Why not?". It was one of the few arguments we won, thank goodness. My partner Grant got to write the bomb planting ep, with Sonny saying "eeny meeny miney mo" when choosing which car he'd explode. Grant got to write all the deaths, whereas I often got the weddings - I matched them and he dispatched them!

One hilarious memory of the Sonny Bennett storyline I recall was an ep after he's busted out of prison and is running around Westside on the run with fellow escapee Arthur (who we all called Namdee Arthur, thanks to a storyliner's typo which should have read "named Arthur" but ended up giving him a rather bizarre Indian sounding name instead - odd since the actor playing him was Aboriginal). Anyway, Grant and I edited the block and Sonny is getting up to all sorts of trouble (we shot 2 eps at a time, which was called a block) and gave it to the script typist - this was before the days of email and everyone having Final Draft, or whatever. She starts typing, then turns to us and says - how can Sonny and Arthur split up to stalk people and buy barbecued chicken to eat in their hideout when they're still handcuffed to each other? Grant and I just looked at each other... ooops! We'd both overlooked that slight plot hole. So we had to go back and hacksaw them apart in scene 1! Thank goodness Jane the typist saved us from Forrest tearing strips off us!

Were there any stories you really wanted to show on E Street but couldn't for whatever reason?

Don't recall any - it was a show that knew no boundaries - only censor imposed ones re violence, drug taking, etc. But even then we pushed the limits.

When the character of Elly Fielding changed actress did it present writing > problems, or did you just write the character how you had before?

Nope - just kept on writing her the same. Once you see the new actress settle into the role you do try to write to their strengths a bit but you can't change anything fundamental about the character, as that defeats the point of recasting.

E Street - Ernie and Abbys Wedding

Is it hard to split up an on screen couple that work really well together and whom the public wants to stay together, if say one of the actors is leaving - ie Toni & Harley, Nikki & Max, Elly & Bob - or is it something you're detached from?

The hardest thing is to make it credible. Actors move on all the time so it's a constant challenge when they want to depart in the middle of a great storyline. You get really annoyed that all your hard work and foward planning will go out the window, but that's life - you just have to construct a believable break up, exit, or however else they go.

What was the atmosphere like when E Street won Best Drama Series logie in 1992? It must have been a boost.

Yep, that was definitely a golden period.

What were your thoughts on E Streets cancellation? I thought the episodes from Bob's death to the final one were really good; strong plots and well defined characters. Something seemed to come back which had been lacking a few months previous.

Again, I wasn't there for that. I can't say I was surprised - it really lost its way after the werewolf story. I don't think a show can ever come back once its "jumped the shark" - I assume you know that expression? and a lot of the writers who really knew the show had moved on to other things, so I think its basic integrity had been compromised one too many times.

Have you kept in touch with anyone from your E Street days?

Yes - Grant of course. He worked in theatre before then so knew quite a few of the actors, so we're still friends Penny Cook, Noel Hodda and some others. I still work with some of the directors I worked with then - in fact the EP of McLeods Daughters where I work now is Karl Zwicky who was a director on E Street. Also quite a few of the script office I either still work with or are good friends with - Lisa who did the "namdee Arthur" typo is a very close friend.

What's your favourite E Street memory? On or off screen.

Meeting Grant, obviously. On screen, well, the thrill of seeing my first TV ep I wrote go to air (Ernie and Abbey's wedding on the paddle steamer). It was the first script I wrote for the show (and in my TV career) so the pressure was already high when the story editor said to me that the test of a good wedding episode was how many people wrote in asking for a copy of the vows. Of course I panicked and thought no one would write in and I would be a complete failure, so sweated over them for weeks - anyway, I was saved from the shame because I think about 3 or 4 people wrote in requesting them!

What shows/projects have you been involved in since E Street ended?

I've been script editor, writer or script producer since then. Shows include Home and Away, Heartbreak High, Paradise Beach, Pacific Drive, Big Sky, Outriders and Horace and Tina (kids drama), and for the last 5 years I've worked on McLeods Daughters, which is the no 1 local drama in Australia.

Many thanks to Alexa Wyatt for taking time to do this interview.