“Jim from Neighbours” – The Busiest Actor in the World (perhaps)

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd January 2012.

A long time ago, in an Erinsborough far, far away, the beloved Neighbours character Jim Robinson suffered a major heart attack and passed away on screen, right before a commercial break. This was way back in 1993, when people actually watched Neighbours and on-screen deaths were rare. Most departing characters simply moved to Brisbane to live with Scott and Charlene.

After eight long years of service to Grundy Television, Kiwi actor Alan Dale was departing the soapie, and a regular income, with his dignity intact and no embarrassing attempts at singing to speak of. Well, there was the dreadful 1989 Christmas With Your Neighbours album but being a Christmas album, it was meant to be dreadful (I hope).

Typecast as “Jim from Neighbours”, Dale found it difficult to get work in Australia. With nothing to lose, he relocated his family to the USA where there was potentially a need for fresh faces in the mature actor niche.

The rest, as they say, is pretty interesting. “Jim from Neighbours” managed to overcome the spectre of Australian typecasting and went on to appear in almost every US television show going as the “serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide.”

He was Caleb Nichol, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide in the hit series that introduced the world to talent vacuum Mischa Barton, The O.C. After his character was killed off with a heart attack, he went on to star in Ugly Betty as Bradford Meade, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide. After his character was again killed off with a heart attack, Dale went on to feature in the brain bending Lost as Charles Widmore, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide but no known cardiac history.

There really was no stopping “Jim from Neighbours.”

Whenever you switched on a television, there he was in a guest role. His credits are pretty much the contents of my DVD shelf. E.R., The X-Files and its spinoff The Lone Gunmen, Torchwood, Entourage, NCIS, The West Wing, JAG, Californication and The Practice have all been graced by the authoritarian and secretive presence of Alan Dale.

He was even the Vice President of the USA in seven “hours” of the rather silly but fun 24. As Jim (not from Neighbours) Prescott, an authoritarian VP with something to hide, he mistakenly placed President Palmer under house arrest, based on false evidence. Playing the third most powerful man in the world (behind the American President and Batman) may seem  an honour until you realise that two years later on the same show, Vice President Mitchell Hayworth was portrayed by Aussie ex-pat and “actor” Cameron Daddo.

Not limited to the idiot box, Dale’s career has also expanded to the silver screen. Last week, I popped the sci-fi vampire action thingy Priest into my VCR to find “Jim from Neighbours” playing his usual character, but in a silly robe, in eye popping 3D.

Most impressive to geeks everywhere, Dale was also cast in two iconic film franchises. He pops up as General Ross in the mediocre Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and plays the Romulan Praetor Hiren in the so-so Star Trek Nemesis. OK, so they weren’t the best films in the series but how many Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies have you been in?

He even has his own trading cards. That’s right, on ebay there is brisk trade in Alan Dale signature cards from his Lost, Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Blah Blah Blah appearances.

Later this month, Dale will appear on Aussie cinema screens as Detective Isaksson in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This year, all Australians (and New Zealanders) should celebrate the amazing career of “Jim from Neighbours” and his remarkable body of work, playing the authoritarian figure with something to hide, since shaking off the stigma of typecasting way back in 1993 when Jim Robinson of Ramsey St met his maker.

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R.I.P. Jack Bauer

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th March 2010.

This weekend has seen the announcements that two very popular television shows will meet their demise in 2010. Both 24 and The Bill will cease production after long and successful runs. Featuring very different styles of crime fighting, these shows will be missed by Australian audiences. The Bill is somewhat of an institution in the UK, having been in production for an amazing 27 years. It has also been a high rating staple of ABC TV programming. Set in the fictional Sun Hill police station, located somewhere in East London, this procedural drama focuses on the lives of one shift of police officers. Over 2300 episodes, almost no subject has been left untouched by The Bill. From corrupt politicians to gay officers, from violent crime to the mandatory police station fire, the Canley Borough Operational Command Unit is certainly an eventful place to work, although the chances of a police officer making it to retirement alive is rather slim, with many characters biting the dust over the show’s 26 seasons. Once commanding UK audiences of 7 million viewers in 2002, ratings have now slumped to half those numbers in recent years. This has prompted broadcaster ITV to put The Bill out to pasture. Iconic hero Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) burst onto our screens in 2001. 24 was revolutionary in its real time approach to television storytelling. Told in 24 episodes of 44 minutes each (the fight against terrorism still needs commercials), each season followed the events of a single day as the US came under attack from terrorists. A product of 9/11, Jack and the Counter Terrorist Unit controversially used torture and endorsed sacrificing lives for the greater good of the American people. Over 8 eventful days (or seasons), Jack has fought off Middle Eastern terrorists, Mexican drug cartels and American conspirators to prevent nuclear bombs, deadly virus attacks and Presidential assassinations, respectively. Don’t forget that he also overcame heroin addiction in season two. The real time storytelling style of 24 worked well in a weekly episodic format. Watching several episodes together however, often revealed huge plot holes and lapses in logic. No-one seemed to eat, drink or go to the toilet during the 24 hour period either. Maybe they did this in the commercial breaks, just like the audience. Similarly to The Bill, which English actors saw as a rite of passage due to its high turnover of performers, 24 has also provided employment for almost every ethnic looking actor in Hollywood. The only catch, you almost certainly needed to play a terrorist. I’m sure that despite any reservations from actors regarding ethnic stereotyping, the need to eat and pay rent won out each time. So the fictional towns of Sun Hill and Los Angeles will soon be without their crime fighters and law enforcement agencies. Loyal fans and viewers at least can take some solace in the fact that the cancellation announcement has occurred early enough for the producers of The Bill and 24 to give their shows a proper send-off. There is nothing worse than a final episode that ends in a cliffhanger.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 10:49  Leave a Comment  
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