Des­per­ate House­wives has opened the door for the over-40s, write Dar­ren Dev­lyn and Greg Thom

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide - Ad­di­tional re­port­ing ERIN McWHIRTER

APRODUCER once joked that women in TV should be treated like ban­knotes — when they turn 40, you should be al­lowed to ex­change them for a cou­ple of 20s.

Bad analo­gies aside, there’s no ques­tion women have at times found the go­ing tough in TV — strug­gling for work be­cause they’re per­ceived to have passed a use-by date.

On an in­ter­na­tional scale, Des­per­ate House­wives cre­ator Marc Cherry has helped to erode the ageist men­tal­ity of male net­work ex­ec­u­tives.

Felicity Huff­man, 45, who plays fraz­zled work­ing mum Lynette Scavo in House­wives, says that dur­ing the 2006 pilot sea­son for new shows, net­works were flooded with con­cepts about ma­ture-age women.

‘‘(House­wives) has gal­vanised women over 30 to be con­sid­ered as vi­able sto­ries,’’ Huff­man says.

‘‘In the (’06) pilot sea­son, there were many sto­ries with older women. Peo­ple who had once been pushed to the side­lines are be­ing phoned. The land­scape has changed. And I think what’s in­ter­est­ing is that it took a gay writer, Marc Cherry, to do it.’’

The Aus­tralian TV in­dus­try, in drama pro­duc­tion at least, is also recog­nis­ing the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity of ma­ture women.

Noni Ha­zle­hurst, 54, is an in­te­gral part of Chan­nel 7’s hit cop drama City Homi­cide as the no-non­sense Det Supt Ber­nice Waverley.

Also set to make an im­pact in com­ing weeks are Catherine McCle­ments, 44, in Ten’s new po­lice drama Rush; Ge­orgie Parker, 43 in the Nine tele­movie Scorched; and Re­becca Gib­ney, 43 — who, with Erik Thom­son, head­lines Seven’s new drama hope Packed To The Rafters.

Gib­ney con­fesses it was only af­ter she had her son Zac, now four, that she found the con­fi­dence to em­brace the signs of age­ing. In Packed to the Rafters she plays Julie, a mum of three and says it makes sense for net­works to cast ‘‘real’’ faces and bod­ies in ev­ery­day roles in­stead of glam­ouris­ing them.

‘‘I feel happy in my own skin now . . . prob­a­bly in my mid-30s I got a lot more con­fi­dent with who I am and got to 40 and thought, ‘I don’t have to try any­more’,’’ she says.

Gib­ney is happy to age grace­fully af­ter stop­ping Bo­tox in­jec­tions a cou­ple of years ago and de­clin­ing plas­tic surgery.

‘‘I don’t mind the wrin­kles and I don’t mind play­ing the mother of a 25-year-old,’’ she says. ‘‘A lot of peo­ple go, ‘Oh, you’re play­ing the mother, what do you think about that?’ And I think it’s lib­er­at­ing. It’s OK to have a few roles and lines. It’s com­fort­ing and you can see that on screen.’’

There are no con­cerns about near­ing 40 for 37-year-old City Homi­cide reg­u­lar Na­dine Gar­ner.

‘‘Women are get­ting great roles in their 40s and there is a lot to look for­ward to,’’ Gar­ner, the mother of a two-year-old son, says.

‘‘I thought my 20s (in show busi­ness) would have been easy, but they weren’t. It was a tough decade work-wise and now I’m just re­ally pos­i­tive there is great stuff out there, in­stead of be­ing told you are all washed up by the age of 45, which used to hap­pen.

‘‘I don’t think that’s true any more. Amer­i­can TV cel­e­brates the older fe­male and I just think we are fi­nally ready to ac­cept ma­ture, pow­er­ful women in our cul­ture, which is ex­cit­ing.’’

It’s fit­ting pro­duc­ers of Packed to the Rafters have cast ac­com­plished, ex­pe­ri­enced ac­tors in lead roles. The com­edy-drama is in­ci­sive, quirky and con­tem­po­rary— in the mould of Seven’s for­mer hit Al­ways Greener.

The creative minds be­hind Rafters didn’t have to look far for in­spi­ra­tion.

The show, which fol­lows the ups and downs of a mid­dle-aged cou­ple forced to deal with the sud­den in­flux of their adult chil­dren back into the fam­ily home, re­flects the re­al­ity of mod­ern Aus­tralian sub­ur­ban life.

Se­ries pro­ducer Jo Porter says the show re­flects the dy­nam­ics of the con­tem­po­rary fam­ily in much the same way as clas­sic TV shows My Three Sons, The Brady Bunch and Eight is Enough did in their day.

‘‘In ev­ery gen­er­a­tion there is a dif­fer­ent model of fam­ily,’’ Porter says.

‘‘We’ve had the blended fam­i­lies and the sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies and now I think the baby boomers are al­most vic­tims of their own suc­cess and their own open­ness. There’s no rea­son for th­ese kids to move out of home be­cause, you know, ev­ery­one’s so open and lib­eral about sex, stay­ing out, do­ing what­ever.

‘‘I know when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to move out of home be­cause my par­ents were not strict, but it was their rules. Now, the fam­ily’s much more demo­cratic . . . it means kids don’t move out.’’

SE­RIES cre­ator Be­van Lee (All Saints, Al­ways Greener) came up with the idea of ex­plor­ing this new model of fam­ily.

If ever a cou­ple de­serves some ‘‘me time’’ af­ter do­ing the hard yards rais­ing a fam­ily of three, it’s the Rafters. Hav­ing just ousted their last child — 23-year-old slacker mid­dle son Ben (Hugh Sheri­dan) from the nest, Mum and Dad are look­ing for­ward to peace and quiet.

Things un­ravel when in the space of 24 hours, youngest son Nathan (An­gus McLaren) and wife Sammy (Jes­sica McNamee) wan­gle a deal to tem­po­rar­ily move back in.

Free-spir­ited daugh­ter Rachel, (Jes­sica Marais) soon lands on the doorstep look­ing for sanc­tu­ary and some TLC af­ter be­ing beaten by her abu­sive live-in boyfriend.

Any spare room left over is soon filled by Julie’s (Gib­ney’s char­ac­ter) fa­ther Ted (Michael Ca­ton), who is strug­gling to deal with the death of his wife.

To top things off, mid­dle son Ben moves in next door, shar­ing a house with his good mate and long-time neigh­bour ‘‘Carbo’’, played to great comic ef­fect by Ge­orge Hou­var­das.

Each episode is nar­rated by a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter, a de­vice Porter says al­lows view­ers to see shared sit­u­a­tions from dif­fer­ent perspectives.

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