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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Groovy Reader of the Month: Andrew Mercado

As a way to thank my readers for their support, I feature a new groovy guy or gal each month - and the winner of this prestigious title for February is Andrew Mercado of Sydney, Australia, an entertainment reporter/TV historian whom I first became familiar with in 2004 when his book, Super Aussie Soaps: Behind the Scenes of Australia's Best Loved TV Shows, was published. I loved reading this comprehensive and fun overview of Australian soap operas, including such memorable shows as Prisoner: Cell Block H, Neighbours, Home and Away and the groundbreaking Number 96, which featured sex and nudity - and the first gay character on an Australian soap. This wildly popular show ran for 1,218 episodes from 1972 to 1977, and since 2006, Andrew has curated (with Umbrella Entertainment) the release of DVDs of Number 96 as well as many other classic Australian TV series. And on March 7, a 40th Anniversary DVD of Number 96 will be released - and I will let Andrew tell you all about it below.

Since 2010, Andrew has been the host of TV's The Playlist, a guide to what is currently worth watching on Australian television, and his own website, mercadoTV, features the latest TV and movie news. I am delighted to have the fabulous Mr. Mercado here on the Dish to answer a few questions about soap operas and other pop culture.

How did you first become a soap opera fan?
From the moment I saw the first ad for Number 96, I was hooked and began begging my parents to let me watch it. To this day, I still have no idea why but while I wore them down (they eventually relented and bought another set for the kitchen, probably just to shut me up), I started watching every soap I could like Class of '74 and Days of our Lives.

Tell us about the new Number 96 DVD.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, I asked the fans what they wanted to see the most and at the top of the list were the early black-and-white episodes. Production-wise, these first episodes are a bit shoddy, but story-wise, it's really explosive and you can see why the show became such an immediate hit. I suspect that even today these episodes couldn't be shown on network TV in America because of the nudity but back in 1972, we did it all. Number 96 is probably the most groundbreaking show in the history of television because it took years and sometimes decades for the UK and the US to cover what we casually put on TV way back when. Sadly, only 19 of these early episodes still exist (584 were filmed in black-and-white but all were thrown out when color TV started) so I've selected the best 16 (due to disk space) and then picked another 16 color episodes which tell the story, chronologically, of the fans' next most requested story – the bomb blast which saw four fan favorites blown out of the show. It was front page news all across the nation in 1975 so that should give you some idea how big the show was down under.

Do you have a favorite Number 96 episode? And who was your favorite character?
That's so hard to answer. I guess Episode 35 which is on the new DVD and from which clips have just been put onto the Australian Screen Online website for media students to learn from [click here to watch]. It's the last black-and-white episode and has so many great one-liners in it. You've got Bev (played by Abigail) apologizing for not being "sophisticated" enough to understand Don's homosexuality and then her snobbish mother turns up to cause trouble. It's so sad to know that just as the show is setting such a cracking pace, we have nothing more in our National Film and Sound Archive until the color episodes three years later.

As for a favorite character, Abigail was a massive star because of this role but most of her stuff I never got to see. So I'll pick the comedy characters like Dorrie Evans (the gossip who was always mangling the English language), Edie MacDonald (a ditzy housewife who called her husband "Daddy" and loved a drink - or two), Trixie O'Toole (a loud red-haired showgirl who popped in and out of the building while between gigs), and Miss Hemingway, who would throw off her fur coat to reveal she was stark naked underneath in what became regular full-frontal nude scenes - at 8:30 pm on network TV all across Australia!

Since you host Australia's TV guide show, The Playlist, what shows are worth watching right now?
Well, I'm loving the final season of Desperate Housewives - those gals have still got it - and I never miss The Graham Norton Show. Can't wait for new Mad Men and Nurse Jackie, and I loved the last seasons of Breaking Bad and True Blood. I am really trying to watch less TV this year, so I have had to burn a few shows like The View and Glee, but I will always stay loyal to my two long-running soap obsessions, The Young and The Restless and EastEnders.

My five favorite TV soap operas of all time are:
Number 96 (of course)
The Box (another sexy Aussie show from the same era set in a raunchy TV station)
Prisoner: Cell Block H
Knots Landing (the only nighttime soap to successfully integrate new characters into the mix as the originals left)
One Life to Live (still in mourning over this one)

Five movies that I think everyone should be required to watch are:
Female Trouble (my favorite movie of all time)
Fight Club (the best movie of the '90s)
Myra Breckinridge (one of the great movie disasters of all time but watch how a 74-year-old Mae West steals every scene she's in)
Puberty Blues (Aussie chicks go surfing - an absolute classic now being turned into a TV series)
Number 96 (the movie version which opened with a pack rape and then put Don into bed with a new hairy-chested boyfriend – did I mention this came out just in time for school holidays?)

If I were asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be:
Former As the World Turns hottie Brian Bloom. He starred opposite Drew Barrymore in 2000 Malibu Road (a fabulous Aaron Spelling series) and then showered with Christopher Meloni in Oz. He doesn't quite look as good these days, but I still wouldn't say no - and there's always that Playgirl shoot to remember him in his prime.

If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Director John Waters
Number 96's Abigail
Angie Dickinson (she won't write her autobiography but I still wanna know all her stories!)

What's next for Andrew Mercado? And does Umbrella Entertainment plan to release any more soap opera DVDs?
A lot of the Aussie soaps are being taken in-house by the production companies to release themselves so Umbrella doesn't have as much access as they used to have. Hopefully we'll get to do more Number 96 if this one sells well - but in the meantime, I'm doing The Playlist, reviewing movies for a morning show, writing about soaps for TV Week and working on a top-secret project that will blow people's minds. Hint – it's soap-related!

Thank you, Andrew, for being one of my grooviest readers! You can follow Andrew on Facebook and Twitter. Click here to purchase DVDs of Number 96, including the new 40th Anniversary Collection.

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