In November 2000 a press launch gives an idea of what the “new Crossroads” series was to be like. To (slightly) link it to the original, three cast members were returning, Jane Rossington as Jill Harvey, Tony Adams as Adam Chance and Kathy Staff as Doris Luke. The Kings Oak Country Hotel would now be called the Crossroads Hotel and would boast four-star facilities and be fully corporate styled. Another old friend was returning, the Tony Hatch theme tune, it was revamped by Tony Flynn giving it a modern sound for the new millennium. Tony Hatch himself was said to be pleased with the new version, and generally, the crew (some who had worked on the original), old and new cast, as well as the press were all optimistic that “new Crossroads” was to be a huge hit again.
When the new version of the theme played, the gathered journalists at the press launch, cheered with delight. Carlton Television took many opportunities to point out it was a new show, it was not the Crossroads of Central or ATV. This worried fans somewhat, begging the question if it’s not Crossroads – why call it Crossroads? The Carlton serial would initially run for a year, 240 episodes in total to add to the 4510 previous editions. To help bring in new viewers other well-known actors were recruited, Neil McCaul, Jane Gurnett, Sherrie Hewson and Roger Sloman were to bring in older viewers.
James McKenzie Robinson and Toby Sawyer as well as Max Brown were to tempt the teenagers over. Also, a whole host of new talent was to star within the luxury hotel walls. Neil Grainger, Marc Jordan, Peter Dalton, Jack Curtis, Julia Burchell and Rebecca Hazelwood were all practically unknown to television viewers, but would all feature heavily in the new plots. Most of the new faces were from the Central Television Workshop, a sort of drama school for Midland teens.
In the Central ITV region, a special documentary aired, featuring the new and old cast, again Peter Kingsman featured with his views. This programme showed the lengths Carlton Television had gone to, to make the new Crossroads look like the real thing. So after 12 years off-air the nation’s favourite motel was to return to the network as the “centrepiece” to their daytime schedule. The initial idea was for Crossroads to replace the lunchtime showing of Home and Away which had been poached by Channel 5 while a totally new commission Night and Day would broadcast in the 5 pm slot. For various reasons Night and Day was not ready to broadcast at the same time as the hotel saga, so on March 5th, 2001, Crossroads returned to the network with two broadcast slots at 1:30 pm with a repeat at teatime.
The following day Crossroads was again repeated in a one-off 9 pm primetime slot as a celebration of the shows returns. TV critics praised the show as a fast-paced, entertaining series and the viewing figures were impressive (circa 4 million for the first showings and 9 million for the evening repeat) The new version of the theme tune was well received by the fans, as were the trendy opening titles. There had been an uproar in 1988 when Tony Hatch’s famous melody had been replaced by the “King’s Oak” era tune. The hotel set was extremely well designed and looked like the real thing. The costumes and effort that had gone into making the props could clearly be seen. The crew and team were clearly very proud of their product.
There was no danger that the “wobbly walls” stigma that had so hounded the earlier series could be applied here. Many of the early storylines were gripping, and the producers did the best they could while aiming at a teatime audience. The casting generally was excellent, with a lot of the younger cast putting in exceptional performances. As with most soaps after the viewers’ initial curiosity fades, viewing figures dip. In the case of Crossroads, these were lower than expected. Carlton began to panic that their £10 million pound investment might not be able to live up to its predecessor’s reputation. Perhaps excited by Charlie Catchpole’s comment that their soap might wash “tired” Neighbours “down the plughole” TV execs in London decided to move Crossroads from 5 pm to 5:30, directly going head-to-head with Reg Watson’s other creation.
Unfortunately, the potential audience for a show is very limited at 5 pm. Housewives are generally busy making evening meals, students are getting in from schools, colleges and universities, and a huge proportion of the audience is still at work. The 5 pm slot seemed to be something of a “no man’s land” between CITV and the news. Children were not hooked by the prospect of soap and any available adults were already fans of Neighbours. Carlton themselves went through a phase of not really knowing their audience.
The show was scheduled and advertised just after CITV – for a teenage audience – Yet it was sponsored by Surf washing power. How many teenagers buy and use such a product? The very nature of the soap and the age of the characters put off the “teen” viewers while the on-screen link to CITV put off the adult viewers. After the largely positive initial response, the critics became more scathing in their comments of some of the later storylines.
In an attempt to improve the quality of the show, the number of episodes was reduced from five to four a week – sending the Friday cliff-hanger out of sync for months. This was not a new concept to Crossroads fans – the original series had been forced to do much the same thirty years earlier. These changes didn’t help in the quest for more viewers. Through their indecision, the network was making it very difficult for Crossroads to gain a regular fan-base.
It’s fair to say that Carlton in their production methods had failed to hook onto the original audience (the majority of the 11 million fans were still around). In their press hype, the television company had promised that they would be; “building on the strong and enduring affection for the programme amongst viewers.” This statement seems strangely at odds with their decision to include only four characters from the original series. What is even more strange is the appalling treatment that these characters received. (More on this later) It is clear that Carlton, and indeed the television company said themselves that they didn’t want anything of, or to do with, the original series.
And the “remembering the old days” once the press publicity had gone was banished from the series. Peter Ling, Crossroads co-creator, told the Crossroads Appreciation Society that Carlton had missed an opportunity to make the real Crossroads popular. In a letter to CAS, he noted Carlton’s disregard for the original, and the creators, until it was discovered the production company only owned part of the rights and didn’t own all the copyright on the soap:
“They almost told us, Hazel and myself, that we would have nothing to do with [the new series]. But then they discovered that as we still have our share in the copyright of the basic format, we will be paid some sort of royalty for doing nothing!” He later added: “I’m sorry; don’t ask me about the ‘new’ Crossroads! I watched the first few episodes, but I was disappointed; I feel that a great opportunity to bring the serial up to date for a new generation of viewers has been sadly lost.”
Other ex-cast had been left similarly unimpressed, such as Jeremy Nicholas, Angus Lennie, Lynette McMorrough and Sue Lloyd who all raised issues with the series using the Crossroads branding. It is unfortunate that the management and those in charge of the production, as well as network bosses, at that time didn’t seem to like or care much for the original. So what was the problem?
Firstly in the press releases, Carlton failed to get the continuity right; “Crossroads is now a 4-star hotel, not a no-star motel.” We can only assume that they were playing on the nation’s memory of the motel rather than the actual history. Firstly, Crossroads was not a motel when the series ended. Secondly, the motel had always had at least a three stars, and from 1982 onwards had become a four-star establishment.
“New Crossroads has executive suites, twin and double bedrooms with en-suites, plush management apartments, a beauty salon and a health spa. Weddings and conferences are now big business at Crossroads.” – Carlton Press Release
By this the PR suggests these were something old Crossroads didn’t have. The ATV and Central versions did have all those features – and more, a hair salon and swimming pool as well as a leisure centre to name three! It was all the more amazing that initially, Carlton did have a Crossroads continuity department that had been working with the Crossroads Appreciation Society and even hired Peter Kingsman in a paid role to assist with the series heritage. However, the department was axed and the researchers sacked as the new programme-makers decided “continuity isn’t important.” How wrong they were to be.
There are numerous continuity gaffs between the new and old series some more obvious than others such as the Jill Harvey name, which was to most a blatant mistake – as she hadn’t used that name since 1983. Also, the “old” characters bore the names such as Doris Luke and Adam Chance, but the actual characterisation was far from authentic. Adam would never – never ever – murder Jill. It seemed to many that Carlton didn’t want any long-term association to the original series. They merely wanted to cash-in on the brand, the legend, the status and institution of the original soap – but didn’t want to have anything in the new version other than the name and theme tune.
Two out of the three original-series actors were dropped within months of the show airing. The killing-off of Jill Chance, the mainstay of the original, stunned the Crossroads fans that had waited 12 years to see the show regain its rightful place on TV. Even many of the ‘new Crossroads‘ fans commented it was stupid to kill off someone everyone associated with the show. It seemed to many of the old fans that remembered the original and knew what the brand stood for, that the new version was Crossroads in name only.
No one was saying old cast had to be back forever but familiarity would have helped to give the show a stronger fan base and foundations to build a new hotel-based series on over time. So it wasn’t the Crossroads that people remembered – but was it really that bad? Actually – as a new soap the answer is “no” – it was really rather good. As 2001 drew to a close things for the production seemed to improve, the storylines were again becoming more interesting and the main problem of a story starting at the beginning of an episode then being over by the end of it was finally sorted out.
At the end of the first year, several new characters were added to the series. Things were looking up; the show was extended by another 80 episodes. Commissioned by the then head of daytime at ITV, Maureen Duffy it seems Crossroads was finally fitting into the schedules. It had a steadily growing fan-base who seemed to enjoy watching life in the new hotel…
Against all the odds and in the face of such adversity it was also by now the network’s most popular – highest rating – daytime programme in the modern age of viewing figures. Sadly it was fate once more that played its hand in the downfall of the soap when in early in 2002 a shake-up in the daytime office saw Maureen Duffy replaced by Liam Hamilton, who wasn’t so sure that Crossroads had any rating-winning formula running through it. Episodes of Crossroads continued to be produced, although its future was still undecided.
Eventually at the end of March 2002, while London network bosses dithered on whether to continue with the serial, production was put on hold while the remaining backlog of episodes was aired. Initially, Carlton announced a mini revamp would take place which would see the series appeal to an older daytime audience – possibly thanks to the success of fellow Midland saga Doctors on the BBC with a successful following of family and well off older viewers.
It was also suggested it would have changes made to appeal to the original series fans, and indeed be more ‘true Crossroads’. “They’d done market research and decided it needed to appeal to older people.” – actor Neil Grainger, (Phil Berry in the show)