July 6, 1992 on UK TV: Eldorado

Eldorado was a British soap opera created by Tony Holland from an original idea by John Dark and Verity Lambert that ran for only one year, from 6 July 1992 to 9 July 1993. Set in the fictional town of Los Barcos on the Costa del Sol in Spain and following the lives of British and European expatriates, the BBC hoped it would be as successful as EastEnders and replicate some of the sunshine and glamour of imported Australian soaps such as Home and Away and Neighbours. A co-production between the BBC and independent production company Cinema Verity and J.Dark y J.Todesco, Eldorado aired three times a week in a high-profile evening slot on the mainstream channel BBC1, filling the slot vacated by Terry Wogan‘s chat show Wogan, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7.00pm.

In spite of a high-profile advertising campaign on television, radio and in the press preceding the launch (‘Are you ready for Eldorado?’, read by actor Campbell Morrison), the programme was not initially a popular hit with viewers or critics. Ratings improved with a radical overhaul, but it was eventually cancelled by the new controller of BBC1, Alan Yentob.

Although the show featured many professional actors, such as Patricia Brake and Jesse Birdsall, many of the cast were inexperienced actors whose limitations were clearly exposed on such a new and ambitious project (German-born Kai Maurer had apparently never acted on stage or screen previously before being cast in the show). Prior to filming, some of the cast did not even know what a read-through was; the acting was derided as amateurish, while the show’s attempt to appear more ‘European’ by having characters speak in different languages without subtitles or talk in bizarre, unconvincing accents was met by viewers with incomprehension and ridicule.

As a result of filming in bare-walled villas rather than a studio, there were many sound and acoustic problems, such as echoing. Possibly in a bid to court media attention, the show opened with the controversial story of a middle-aged man, Bunny (played by Roger Walker), returning from the UK with a 17-year-old bride, Fizz (Kathy Pitkin); many viewers felt this storyline was implausible and sordid. On top of this, ITV decided to air a special one-hour edition of Coronation Street on the show’s debut evening, reputedly in an attempt to sabotage the programme by network executives.

As a result, the costly production – although not exorbitant by contemporary television standards – was used by critics of the television licence to argue that the BBC was feathering the nest of former employees. Due to the stresses of internal feuding, producer Julia Smith had a nervous breakdown and left the soap opera, to be replaced by Corinne Hollingworth, who had previously worked on EastEnders. Hollingworth brought about many changes to Eldorado by hiring new scriptwriters, creating extra rehearsal time, and removing many of the inexperienced and poor actors who had attracted criticism.

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