'Coronation Street' brings up 50 years with a bang
One of Britain's best-loved TV soaps, "Coronation Street", marks 50 years on air this week with a dramatic scene featuring a tram crashing on to houses and characters fighting for their lives.
The producers of the ITV show have chosen to chalk up half a century with the most catastrophic scenes in the history of the soap, which is set in Weatherfield, a fictional suburb of Manchester.
It marks a dramatic change of pace for a show whose beauty -- in the eyes of many of its fans -- lies in its diet of mainly humdrum day-to-day events in northwest England, told with a tight script and a dose of dark humour.
The chaos, seen by British viewers on Monday, is sparked when an explosion tears apart The Joinery bar, causing the tram to plunge from the viaduct above into the street of familiar red-brick terraced houses.
The incident leaves much-loved characters such as Rita Sullivan, Ken Barlow and Ashley Peacock lying motionless amid the wreckage.
In true soap style, the 10 million fans who regularly watch in Britain alone will be left to wonder who survives the devastation as the storyline develops over five nights, including a live special on Thursday, the day of the 50th anniversary.
One of the longest-serving characters, Ken, played by William Roache, and his younger bride-to-be Leanne Battersby, played by Jane Danson, are also floored as the tram plummets into the cobbled street.
Roache said: "I had tears of pride to belong to a team that can produce something like that -- which is not only the best thing in Coronation Street ever, the best thing on TV ever."
The shocking scenes have taken months to film and the tram stunt is believed to have cost up to one million pounds (1.6 million dollars, 1.2 million euros).
It has been a momentous few weeks for "Corrie", as it is known, with the tram crash following close on the heels of the death of the lugubrious stalwart Jack Duckworth -- a mainstay of the show for three decades -- last month.
In September it became the longest-running TV soap opera in the world, and will soon pass the 7,500-episode milestone.
Given its popularity, Coronation Street is a commercial juggernaut, generating substantial revenue and sponsorship opportunities, not to mention sales to 40 countries.
Among ITV shows, only Simon Cowell's talent show "X Factor" can rival the impact of Corrie, which spars with the BBC's London-based "Eastenders" for British soap supremacy.
And while Corrie might have started in the days of crackly black and white TV -- the first episode was screened on December 9, 1960 -- it has embraced social media.
The show now has a senior digital producer who seeks out storylines "for opportunities for web interactivity", its executive producer Kieran Roberts told The Guardian newspaper, stressing he wants to attract new fans.
"I want to convert casual viewers into fans. That's the challenge the writers set themselves.
"It's important to do justice to the 50 years and the show's tradition. But even when we plotted out the crash, we were thinking about how this would be a springboard for what we'll be doing into next year and way beyond that."
© 2010 AFP