In 1992 "Eldorado" was destined to be the next big thing in television. A joint production by the BBC, Cinema Verity and J.Dark y J.Todesco, it was going to be the show to win the ratings war with ITV.
It's hard to appreciate now just how ambitious this show actually was. It was the first (and last) show the BBC produced to be made entirely overseas. An editing suite was even built on location so that the finished episodes could be shipped to London ready for screening. There had never been such a multi-lingual cast featured before and some of them even spoke in their native language without subtitles. An entire village was created on a remote hillside near Coín, near Malaga in southern Spain, in just three months.
Much was made of the "£10 million" purpose built set. In reality it cost £2 million to build. The entire year of "Eldorado" cost £10 million - surprisingly little for a primetime show airing 3 nights a week.
The pedigree behind "Eldorado" was impressive. The original idea was conceived by John Dark and Verity Lambert. At the time John Dark had a wealth of successful productions to his name and Verity Lambert's entire career had been spent producing critically acclaimed and popular television shows. They approached the BBC with the concept and it wasn't long before Julia Smith and Tony Holland (creators of "Eastenders") were brought on board. The working title of "LIttle England" was deemed too parochial and changed to "Eldorado".
Things were looking good, but the BBC were keen to deploy their secret weapon. The launch date was brought forward by six months and the number of episodes increased from two to three per week. That it managed to get on air so prematurely was a minor miracle. Much publicity was given to the "sun, sea and sangria" show and a host of journalists were flown over to Spain for the launch party.
The first episode aired on 6th July, 1992 which attracted a healthy 8m viewers. However the ratings quickly dipped and less than a month later typically 3.5m were tuning in. The press backlash was savage. Much criticism was made of some of the more inexperienced cast members and the whole venture was cited as a prime example of the BBC wasting licence fee revenue in a time when Britain was in recession.
Although viewing figures stabilised around the 5m mark, it was obvious however that "Eldorado" was not courting as much interest as had been hoped. To put it in context, "Eastenders" was pulling an average of 15m viewers and rival "Coronation Street" was nearer the 20m mark.
Crisis meetings were held at BBC Television Centre. An overworked Julia Smith left the production and a new Producer (Corrine Hollingworth) was brought on board. Script writers were relocated to Spain to work more closely with the cast/crew and several members of the cast were unceremoniously axed. By all accounts, it did the trick. The show seemed more assured, morale was reportedly better and by late 1992 the ratings had risen to around 7m. The future for the "sunshine soap" seemed appropriately bright.
One can only have imagined what may have happened had the controller of BBC (Jonathan Powell) not jumped ship to become head of Drama at Carlton Television. In March 1993 the incoming controller, Alan Yentob, was tasked with deciding the future of "Eldorado". After some weeks of deliberation, he decided it had none. On the 14th March 1993 the decision was made to axe "Eldorado".
Whether it was just curiosity or (more likely) a reflection of the growing quality of the programme, the viewing figures continued to steadily rise - culminating in a final episode on the 9th July 1993, watched by over 10m people. Several campaigns tried to save the show but the BBC was not about to change its mind. The set was abandoned and still stands to this day.
The show sold well to other countries and proved surprisingly popular in countries as diverse as Russia, Poland and Mauritius.
The tagline often used for the promotional pieces on BBC1 was "Are you ready for Eldorado?". The ironic thing was that, partly because the BBC were so keen to launch early, "Eldorado" wasn't ready for itself, something that some people never forgave it for.