Coronation Street: 10 big predictions for the new Iain MacLeod era
What will the show's new producer have in store for us?
BY DANIEL KILKELLY
25 APRIL 2018
Coronation Street is rarely out of the headlines at the moment, but press speculation has gone into overdrive this week following the big news that current Emmerdale producer Iain MacLeod will be taking over as the show's top boss in June.
Iain is succeeding Kate Oates in the role and already there's plenty of speculation in the papers over what he might have planned for the nation's favourite soap.
While Iain won't take office or make any firm decisions for another month or so, that doesn't mean we can't make some predictions about what he may have in store for his era. Based purely on the evidence, of course.
1. Avoiding an axing spree?
Every time a new producer takes over one of the big soaps, the papers eagerly put out a story about how the cast are supposedly quaking in their boots as they anxiously expect their P45s. Iain's had his first taste of this already, with wild speculation that he could be set to ditch some of Corrie's younger stars.
But could all this just be tabloid tittle-tattle? Let's not forget that when Iain took over from Kate Oates on Emmerdale in 2016, there was no major clear-out of big names. Instead, he worked with what he had in the existing cast and introduced some new faces too.
Based on this, Corrie's current stars can possibly breathe a sigh of relief that Iain doesn't have too much of a reputation as a mad axeman. At least not yet, anyway!
2. Not trying to transform the show into something else
Corrie fans won't have to worry too much about the new boss coming on board and not knowing anything about what makes the show work. Iain has actually been at Corrie before, joining the Weatherfield show in 2006 as a researcher.
Iain quickly rose through the ranks to become story associate and story editor. He stuck with the show until 2014, when he became a producer on Channel 4's Hollyoaks (so you could say he's a big of a soap veteran).
Iain's first stint working on the cobbles saw him overseeing storylines like Jack Duckworth's death, the 50th anniversary tram crash, Carla's rape and Kirsty's abuse of Tyrone. During this time, he worked under the reign of four different producers so should – in theory – have a sound knowledge of what makes good Corrie.
When he joined Emmerdale in 2016, Iain also stressed that he wasn't going to tinker with a winning formula, so it's likely he'll take a similar approach to Corrie. Speaking at the time, he said: "When I got the job, I did look up the Emmerdalehashtag on Twitter and there was quite a lot of people going, 'I'm never watching Emmerdale again – he's going to ruin it'. But I'm absolutely not going to change it into something viewers don't recognise."
3. More gritty storylines?
Some fans have wondered whether the departure of Kate Oates could mean an end to darker storylines on the cobbles, but this seems unlikely. First of all, Corrie has pulled in some of its highest ratings in years under the current leadership and ITV yesterday made a glowing tribute to Kate for delivering "a herculean achievement in this box-set era".
As a commercial network, ratings will always be a key consideration for ITV and it'd be counter-productive to mess too much with an approach that's paid dividends for them over the past couple of years, with Corrie often 2 million viewers ahead of its arch-rival EastEnders in consolidated figures.
Iain's time at Emmerdale has also seen some hard-hitting storylines, including Ross Barton's acid attack, Rhona Goskirk's rape and the recent revelation of Charity Dingle's teenage abuse, so he's certainly not shy to explore difficult issues.
Of course, the perfect blend of Corrie is balancing the light and shade, so we wouldn't be too surprised if Iain keeps some of the recent backlash over the show being "too dark" in mind. His trickiest task will no doubt be closely monitoring the show's tone and trying to keep everyone happy.
During his time in charge at Emmerdale, Iain has pushed the boundaries with a handful of special episodes which broke away from the usual rigid formula. Ashley Thomas's dementia storyline led to an episode told entirely from his point of view, while another one-off edition gave us a glimpse of Cain Dingle's troubled childhood.
The acclaimed Emmerdale motorway pile-up episodes also showed us the same day from the perspective of different characters, while last year's 'Who Killed Emma Barton?' whodunit made use of flashbacks as part of the storytelling. And who could forget Robert's Sugden's Groundhog Day-inspired coma dream?
It's worth pointing out that Emmerdale gets away with thinking outside the box more than Corrie does, as there's slightly less scrutiny on the show. But you never know – perhaps Iain might be tempted to try his hand at producing a special episode on the cobbles too?
5. Characters being nice to each other
Could Iain be the producer who finally resolves the long-running feud between Eileen and Gail, or gets Tracy Barlow to say a kind word or two? Don't rule it out. In one of his first interviews for Emmerdale in 2016, Iain revealed that he'd been encouraging the writers to include more heartwarming moments of friendship in their scripts.
Speaking at the time, he explained: "What I've found myself saying to a lot of writers and directors since I've got here is that I like people being nice to one another. I love Paddy and Marlon, and that kind of bromance stuff. Awkward, male-friendship bromances, I love.
"I do find myself giving a lot of notes saying: 'These two people should be nice to each other here. Why can't they give each other a hug or why can't they say a reassuring thing?' It doesn't all have to be punches and slaps and crashes and explosions, as much as I love all of that. Sometimes it's nice when you go: 'Aww, that's the sweetest thing I've seen all day and I'm really glad I watched tonight.'"
6. Straight-talking with the cast
While he may not be an axe-wielding boss, Iain does have a reputation for straight-talking – both in interviews and with his own cast. In one of his first Emmerdale chats with the press, he admitted that some of the show's stars had been up to his office fearing for their jobs after his appointment.
Speaking at the time, Iain admitted: "I've always been honest with people, really: 'This is my view in terms of your character, this is my honest opinion of your current performance, these are my notes for you in terms of what you need to do more of or less of', or indeed stay exactly as you are in some cases. I'm trying to be quite straightforward, really.
"I've been around the industry long enough to know that generally, if not exclusively, you get the best out of people if you tell them the truth."
7. Testing the much-loved couples
Soaps can't all be sweetness and light and Iain's time on Emmerdale saw him introduce break-up plots for popular couples like Robert and Aaron and Cain and Moira. Of course, both pairings found their way back together in the end – but Iain stood his ground over the decision to break their relationships apart before building them back up again.
"My personal view on soap couples generally is that happy couples tend not to get much screen time," he explained. "The couples who are best are the ones with inbuilt conflict and the ones who make mistakes, make up, break up and hurt each other and have passionate make-up sex."
8. Not being afraid to kill characters off
While Iain didn't carry out a big Emmerdale cast cull upon joining the show in 2016, he wasn't shy when it came to creating death storylines for cast members who wanted to leave. Emma Barton, Finn Barton and Chrissie White were among those killed off when the actors in question handed in their notice.
Reflecting on Emma Barton's exit last year, Iain laughed: "I've given away a bit of a trade secret here, but as soon as an actor says, 'I think I want to leave at the end of my contract', even as they're talking, my brain is going, 'How are they going to leave? Is it going to be a death?'"
Hmm, if any cast members are getting itchy feet but want the door left open, this might not be the best era to leave in.
9. Kicking off with a bang?
Although Iain starts working at Coronation Street in June, the show firms up its storylines several months in advance, so it's unlikely we'll see his work hit our screens until the autumn.
That does, of course, coincide with ITV's annual Super Soap Week, which traditionally sees Corrie and Emmerdale deliver high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat storylines just as the evenings are starting to get darker. Could this mean Iain will have to make his mark early by coming up with a shock stunt?
10. Keeping one eye on the 60th anniversary?
This is just speculation, but if Iain sticks around as producer for a while, there's every chance that he could be the top boss in charge when Corrie celebrates its 60th anniversary in December 2020. Even if he only does a two-year stint like Kate Oates, it's likely that some vague plans will already be in place for the anniversary by June 2020.
So, could Iain have a role to play in crafting Corrie's historic milestone? If so, he's got plenty of time to get his thinking cap on over how to top that tram crash...