EastEnders fans, it’s time to get excited about the show again. The BBC has announced that soap supremo Kate Oates will be taking charge of the show from October, following her successful stints at the helm of Emmerdale and Coronation Street.
Oates will take on the newly created role of Senior Executive Producer at EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty – and it’s thought that she’ll have particular input into all things Walford.
There’s sure to be plenty of wild speculation about Oates’ plans in the coming weeks, even though she doesn’t start work for another two months. But looking at the evidence and her past work, can we cut to the chase and make some accurate predictions on what she might have in store for Albert Square?
1. Grittier storylines
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first – Oates’ reign at Coronation Street will be best remembered for big, bold and sometimes controversial storylines. Bethany Platt’s grooming ordeal, Pat Phelan’s killing spree, David Platt’s rape and Aidan Connor’s suicide were among the challenging plots that unfolded during her stint at the top.
The sudden run of darker plots divided opinion among Corrie viewers, but she stayed confident in her vision and never made any apologies for wanting to tell relevant, issue-based storylines.
“I will quite happily accept that it’s darker,” Oates told Radio Times earlier this year. “But I do think that we’ve got a good balance – what I enjoy best about that dramatic mix is when you’ve got comedy within the darkness. I’ve never been a fan of slapstick. I’ve never been a fan of ‘comedy strands’. But I like dark humour and gallows humour.”
It’s possible that Oates’ style will prove less divisive among EastEnders fans, as the show has always had a grittier “kitchen sink” feel. Plus, viewers have been crying out for the Beeb’s flagship soap to be more daring with its storytelling for a while now.
2. No mass axing of characters
Every single time a soap gets a new producer, there’s a predictable tabloid story about cast members “in fear” over possible axings. While it’s always possible that Oates may feel some characters’ journeys have come to an end, it’s worth noting that she didn’t carry out a big cull when she joined Emmerdale or Coronation Street.
Part of her success upon joining soaps has been carefully assessing the characters and trying to make them more interesting, rather than simply cutting her losses by handing out P45s. One good example is how the Nazir family were pretty unpopular when she first joined Corrie, but the Kate and Rana story finally gave them a proper slice of the action.
3. A faster pace
EastEnders has felt a little bit slow this year, to put it mildly. The early months of 2018 were dominated by the never-ending saga of Aidan Maguire’s heist and missing money. Now we have the Stuart storyline going around in circles in a similar fashion.
Emmerdale and Coronation Street both notably picked up the pace when Oates took over as producer. Each episode would have a purpose, some suspense or a clever twist. A week of episodes felt like a journey that genuinely moved things forward.
It was no coincidence, either. When she first joined Emmerdale in 2013, Oates told us in an exclusive chat: “[I’ve been looking at] the pace of the storytelling, as sometimes I felt that things weren’t moving as quickly as they could. We do need to give stories time to breathe in order to tell them properly, but we also need some big moments – possibly more often than we’d been seeing recently.”
4. Better storytelling
Another key feature of the Oates approach is stories which are cleverly intertwined and actually have consequences. On Emmerdale, Robert and Aaron’s affair caused months worth of drama – setting in motion a chain of events that included Katie’s death, Chrissie’s revenge, a dramatic helicopter crash and the ‘Who Shot Robert?’ saga.
Over on Coronation Street, Aidan’s decision to have an affair with Maria sparked two years worth of storylines – the initial fling, Eva’s revenge, the big wedding day showdown, the Connors losing the factory, and of course Aidan’s depression and suicide. Corrie also received particular praise for how Aidan’s suicide was interconnected with David’s rape story, ultimately encouraging David to speak out about his ordeal.
During Oates’ time in charge, both shows felt like they’d been mapped out well and actually had a game plan, which was good news for fans.
5. Rebuilding the Beales
When Oates took over Emmerdale in 2013, she spoke passionately about respecting the show’s roots by making better use of its rural location. She also brought back Robert Sugden as a nod to the show’s history.
On Coronation Street, she kicked off by dusting away the cobwebs at the Barlow house and bringing back Ken’s family, giving the show’s sole remaining original character more to do. Once again, elements of the show’s past were used to build a stronger future.
With this in mind, could we also see her pay some special attention to the character of Ian Beale, EastEnders‘ longest-running character? A number of his family members have fallen by the wayside in recent years, so we wouldn’t be too surprised to see Jane, Peter and Bobby coming back again once the new era gets under way.
It should also be interesting to see how she works her magic on the other big Walford clans, like the Mitchells, the Slaters, the Brannings and the Fowlers. There are some iconic characters still in EastEnders who are crying out for a storyline – and there should be no shortage of those with the new boss in charge.
6. A new supercouple
Part of Oates’ legacy in Soapland is creating two of the internet’s most-shipped soap couples. When she decided to pair up Aaron Dingle and Robert Sugden in Emmerdale in 2014, the Robron phenomenon began and they still have a huge fanbase nearly four years later.
On Corrie, passionate support also built up around Kate and Rana – aka Kana – after she decided to bring them together last year. Given this track record, we definitely wouldn’t be surprised to see a new shippable couple created over on Albert Square.
7. Bringing back fan favourites
We’ve already mentioned possible returns for the Beales, but could Oates decide to bring back some other familiar faces, too? On Emmerdale, she was responsible for bringing back Aaron Dingle and Robert Sugden, which definitely paid off. She also came up with return storylines for a number of Corrie favourites, like Peter Barlow, Carla Connor, Rosie Webster and Toyah Battersby.
So, could this be the EastEnders producer who finally convinces Charlie Brooks to say “Yes!” to a Janine return rather than “never say never”? Will Little Mo ever re-join her family? Will Lauren Branning come back? Could Chrissie Watts return to the Square? And we won’t bore you again with our often-repeated feelings on the decision to write out Ben Mitchell…
8. The element of surprise
Oates is known to favour the shock factor with big storylines. Prior to her joining Corrie, the show very rarely provided on-screen twists or surprises. Once she arrived, the show’s PR strategy changed and some elements of storylines were held back every single week, ensuring there was a reason to tune in to each episode.
The producer has also pulled off some major sleights of hand during her time in the soap world so far, including Ross Barton’s shock return from the dead in Emmerdale and the various ‘OMG’ moments from Phelan’s serial killer plot in Corrie.
EastEnders has often pulled off similar surprises over the years, but there have definitely been fewer shock moments since Dominic Treadwell-Collins left as executive producer in 2016. We’d expect a more twisty-turny show, with the odd kidnap thrown in, once Oates’ episodes hit the screens.
9. Marking the 35th anniversary with a bang
EastEnders turns 35 in February 2020 and it’s highly likely that the new producer will still be in her post by that point (well, you’d hope so). While 35 isn’t traditionally a huge celebration number, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the show marking the occasion regardless.
Anniversaries can help to reignite interest in a soap and as Corrie will be turning 60 the same year, we’re sure EastEnders won’t want to be overshadowed by its arch-rival.
10. 2019 as the resurgence year
The BBC has confirmed that Oates won’t be taking office until October, so any on-screen changes are likely to be a long way off. Until the end of the year, she’ll be working closely alongside EastEnders‘ current executive consultant John Yorke to ensure a smooth handover period.
As soaps work so far in advance, Oates’ own ideas should start hitting the screens in 2019 – although it’s possible that we’ll start hearing some announcements about the future before that.
If all goes well, 2019 could well be the year that EastEnders ends up back on top – do Corrie and Emmerdale need to watch out?
EastEnders airs on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on BBC One.
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