'It's a new beginning, not end for Hollyoaks' TV troubleshooter Paul Marquess reveals the truth behind the ratings slump and mass cull of cast members to Tina Miles.
HE'S been branded the ruthless new boss of Hollyoaks after a whopping 14 cast members were axed from the show.
But Paul Marquess, the man who blew up Sun Hill police station and killed off countless characters in The Bill, is confident the shake-up is the start of the teen soap's rejuvenation.
The Footballers' Wives creator was brought in to the producer's office in January to boost viewing figures which had slumped below the million mark.
In 2000, the show, made by Childwall-based Lime Pictures, pulled in up to four million viewers but it attracted an average of just 1.5m last year.
The Channel 4 soap dipped to 640k on June 4 this year, which was believed to be its lowest ever 6.30pm audience.
But other episodes that week drew ratings of 1.2million, 1.08million and 1.03million, which Hollyoaks bosses are positive about.
Paul denies media speculation the soap is on its way out and says the idea of axing Hollyoaks is "bizarre."
Says Paul: "It is important for Lime Pictures and for Liverpool to keep Hollyoaks as strong as it is. I've had no meetings with Channel 4 about ratings."
"When I left The Bill (in 2005) one of the production staff thanked me for saving their jobs. It is a big responsibility.
"It's all about word of mouth, I knew The Bill was doing well when I heard a group of girls talking about an episode on the Tube.
"It is an exciting time for Hollyoaks and there is already a real buzz on site."
Although Lime Pictures was hired to make big budget dramas for the BBC such as Apparitions, producers admit TV was hit by an advertising downturn which saw a reduction in commissions across the broadcasters. However, they are optimistic about making more dramas but stress Hollyoaks is the company's "most important" show.
It is a return to Lime Pictures for Belfast-born Paul, who previously worked as producer on Brookside between 1999 and 2001 during its declining years.
Ratings increased steadily while he was in charge and one of his most memorable characters was Anthony Murray, played by Liverpool's Ray Quinn.
The young actor was involved in an award-winning bullying storyline which saw the schoolboy murdering one of his tormentors.
Paul went on to get 11.5 million viewers for The Bill's first live episode and was in charge when the show aired its first gay kiss.
With three new families on their way to Hollyoaks Village, including a new Scouse clan, Paul has high hopes for the soap's future.
Ex-Hollyoaker Alex Carter, who played Lee Hunter, is also making a comeback and high-profile actors such as WAG Sheree Murphy, Footballers' Wives actress Phina Oruche, Brookside star Alex Fletcher and former The Bill actress Kim Tiddy are all joining the cast.
And Paul says he's got some explosive storylines lined up for the new additions and the programme's long-serving cast members.
He says: "When you come in to work on a programme you have to think about the target audience and then about what you want to see on screen and all the things Hollyoaks does really well. I wanted to take things right back to basics and work out what Hollyoaks storylines we should have. It was about working out what a Hollyoaks story is, as opposed to an EastEnders story.
"We are very proud of the cervical cancer storyline involving Steph (Carley Stenson), and Hollyoaks' ability to bring a sweet and humorous tone to such a tragic story.
"We hope the message of early detection for cervical cancer reaches our young audience."
He adds: "We're very excited about the arrival of our new families, the O'Connors, the Sharpes and the glamorous Costellos."
But while there will be lots of new cast members, most press attention was on the departure of the soap's familiar faces, something which Paul says was "inevitable".
Initially axing the Ashworths - Josh (Sonny Flood), Suzanne (Suzanne Hall) and Neville (Jim Millea), Paul went on to realign the rest of the cast.
The Valentines - Sasha (Nathalie Emmanuel), Lauren (Dominique Jackson) and Leo (Brian Bovell) are leaving, while Jake (Kevin Sacre), Loretta (Melissa Walton), Zak (Kent Riley), Spencer (Darren John Langford) and Archie (Stephen Beard), Newt (Nico Mirallegro) and relative newcomers Dave (Elliot James Langridge) and Des (Kris Deedigan) will also exit the soap.
Paul reveals some contracts came to an end while others were ready to be written out.
Paul adds: "I've seen it all before. This is my third time on a soap, four if you include Family Affairs, and I think most actors know when they've been in a show for too long and have done everything they can with the character.
"The Ashworths had all been through so many storylines and Zak, played by Kent Riley, had been a student for a long time.
"Ten years ago, there was Brookside and Hollyoaks here but now there's just Hollyoaks.
"I had to think about the locations and what characters I wanted in there.
"My first episodes go out in July and I don't think there will be a dull week of Hollyoaks."
Aside from the new characters and storylines, cast have been filming for the new titles. They are also working on this year's Hollyoaks Later which is due to transmit in October and features UFC star Michael Bisping.
Says Paul: "We were really keen to do something different from the previous two.
It's different because it flows out of and back into the 6.30pm shows. So the audience can watch the 6.30pm shows and Hollyoaks Later or just watch the 6.30pm episodes or the Hollyoaks Later series.
"You have to be careful not to go mad, it's still got to be Hollyoaks which is for young people, but what makes it different is the subject matter and to some extent how it is treated.It will feature some of the new characters, which shows how established they will be by then. We're remaining tight-lipped on all storyline information but we can confirm that Michael won't be playing himself, but a strong, dangerous character that is set to cause trouble for two Hollyoaks residents."
There are also discussions about another Hollyoaks Music Show, where unsigned acts and famous bands play on the set of Hollyoaks. Other projects include an initiative where viewers can follow characters online, similar to the spin-off The Morning After the Night Before, which was launched last summer for the E4 website.
SOAP STATS: . HOLLYOAKS was first broadcast on October 23 in 1995 on Channel 4.. The teen soap was created by Phil Redmond, who also devised shows such as Brookside and Grange Hill.
. Hollyoaks is produced by Lime Pictures, formerly Mersey Television, and is filmed in Childwall.
. The programme is set in the fictional Chester suburb of Hollyoaks and was centred around Hollyoaks Community College. The soap now focuses on life in Hollyoaks Village and appeals to a broader audience.
. It is broadcast at 6.30pm each weekday and its target audience is 18 to 35-year-olds.
. Channel 4's sister station E4 airs a first look feature. Each episode is shown 10 times across channels including its weekend omnibus editions.
. Hollyoaks is also shown in other countries such as Canada and parts of Eastern Europe including Ukraine.
. The programme is known for launching the careers of Will Mellor, Jodi Albert, Gary Lucy, Elize Du Toit, Jeremy Edwards, Ali Bastian, Sarah Jayne Dunn, James Redmond, Warren Brown, Terri Dwyer, Natalie Casey and Davinia Taylor.
. Hollyoaks has received numerous awards over the years. It has raised awareness of issues such as teen pregnancy, abortion, bereavement, male rape, alcohol, drug abuse, homosexuality, mental health, anorexia, surrogacy, dyslexia, domestic violence, suicide, gambling addiction, legal highs and young carers.
BACK TO BASICS: Reporter Tina Miles speaks to Paul Marquess and Hollyoaks' executive producer, Carolyn Reynolds HIGH HOPES: Hollyoaks' producer Paul Marquess has big plans to breathe new life into Hollyoaks. Inset: Actress Sheree Murphy is one of the city soap's latest stars Pictures: ANDREW TEEBAY