Last week the show pulled 1.18m viewers and generally pulls another 200,000 in Timeshifted numbers. Those are the kind of numbers TEN and ABC would kill for.
But with a series as cherished as Seven’s six season hit, it’s important to leave them wanting more.
“I’ve been quite surprised at the reaction on social media over the past few weeks at the reaction that the show is finishing. I knew there would be a reaction and that people would be saddened by it,” Gibney tells TV Tonight.
“But it’s been quite overwhelming. People stop me in the street and come up to me supermarkets and say ‘No! Please, can it come back?’ And also people saying ‘Thank you for being such a staple part of my week on telly’ and that Tuesday nights won’t be the same without it.
“So it’s been really lovely.”
Choosing when to depart was not an easy decision, as pained as some of the show’s own story dilemmas.
“At the beginning of Season 6 we looked at who was going to come back. All of the cast members said they would love to be a part of saying goodbye to the show but beyond that they really want to commit to anything,” she says.
“So we had to make that decision: do we keep pushing on when there’s no more children in the house? Or do we actually say ‘You know what, we’ve had a fantastic 5 years and the show is still rating incredibly well and we’ll go out on a high.’ You don’t often get that opportunity. Most shows lose their audience and get axed, for whatever reason.
“But for us it was a decision to bow out gracefully and I think it’s been a good thing.
“We owe it to the fans and to the show to honour what it always was. The show was always about empty nesters whose children come back and live with the family, but after 5 years the kids have decided to move on again. So you can hardly call a show Packed to the Rafters and not have it ‘packed.’ It just wouldn’t have made sense.
“I think we made the right decision. Despite it being bittersweet it’s very sad to say goodbye but I think the 2 hour finale does honour that.”
The finale is an end-note of sorts but without betraying the heart of the show. Rafters won’t depart with any kind of landmark Sopranos or Six Feet Under exit. Favourite actors including Jessica Marais and Hugh Sheridan return for the double season finale tonight.
“It wouldn’t have worked with a big finale with twists and turns and weird things because that’s not what the show is about. The show is like ‘comfort food’ in a way. It’s that thing where you sort of know what to expect. I think we had to honour that and I think the writers did a lovely job,” she says.
“But in the last 15 minutes it’s ‘Bring out the tissues!’ and of course you have to do that as well. Yet it still ends on a high.”
The song I’m Yours by Jason Mraz which began the series six years ago, is used once more for closure.
Gibney says few people recall that the first season had a somewhat different tone to that which we all associate with the series. The show has tackled a number of important social themes.
“More recently we had the dementia storyline with Ted, but we had abuse right at the beginning with domestic violence. The first season was a lot more hard-hitting than we probably remember. The reason they ended up softening the approach a little bit more was because we didn’t realise the audience was going to be quite so broad. We were always on in an 8:30 timeslot so that we could address those issues,” she says.
“But we started getting letters from people saying ‘I’m watching it with my 12 year old.’ So I think the producers had to listen to that and respond to that, which they did.
“There was drug use, domestic violence, masturbation –we got a bit of a slap for that– texting while driving causing death, affairs, and what constitutes infidelity? Is it in your mind or in a kiss? So I think we brought all sorts of issues which was fantastic and as an actor being given that opportunity. And the whole comedy / drama thing which was wonderful to play, as well.”
The cast of Rafters was central to its broad success and Gibney affirms the extended family affection was as genuine off-screen as it was on-screen. She will watch the finale tonight with cast members.
“There was a magic chemistry that I haven’t experienced for many years, with this cast, and I don’t know whether I’ll get that again. You like to think that hopefully you can work with casts where you’ll have that again. But certainly from the very first read-through there was a magical quality about that connection,” she recalls.
“I will know all these people forever, I know I will.”
The audience loved them nearly as much. The show hit a turning point when younger cast members began to exit. The show lost Jessica MacNamee, Zoe Ventoura, and crucially, Jessica Marais and Hugh Sheridan.
Viewers were also dismayed when Seven withheld episodes from screening. Does Gibney feel this impacted on numbers?
“Yes it did. We know that we probably lost some audience members along the way, which was sad. But you never know who makes decisions and why they make decisions. Ultimately we still had a fairly loyal following and they’ve been fantastic,” she insists.
“It’s really hard to maintain a show over 6 seasons. You can count the number on one hand the shows that have maintained their audiences and been successful for that long, and they’re not that many.
“To be honest we probably could have gone a bit longer. But to what gain? And also I don’t think anybody wanted to see the audience dwindling. It’s a family drama and you can’t do a family drama without a family! It doesn’t really work bringing in relatives and all that. So Rafters as we know it had to finish and I’m glad that we did it that way.”
Filming those final scenes was “devastating” for Gibney.
“I was absolutely beside myself. I was a mess. I’d been crying all day so poor old Eric had to jolly me up. It’s hard to say goodbye to Julie, I loved playing her. Hanging up her ugg boots for the last time was a tricky thing!’ she laughs.
Seven has maintained it will consider a return for the Rafter family in another form, as either a telemovie or spin-off. But there will be no development for 12 months and so far there is no agreement on a future concept.
“At the moment it’s not even on the agenda. Down the track, who knows? I’ve been around for a very long time so I never say never to anything. But I’m currently looking forward to new projects and I’ve got a couple of films slated for next year and we’re developing a couple of very different concepts for Seven at the moment,” she says.
“You’ve got to have a few balls in the air because you never know which ones will get the green light. Certainly we’re moving forward with these ideas and we’re getting positive responses so far which is great.
“I’ve just finished a small thing which will be on air next year and I’m just enjoying having a bit of a break to be honest.
“It’s something that I’ve already filmed which will be on air next year but they haven’t announced it yet. I did it a few weeks ago.
“It’s a factual thing that will be out next year.”
Her future projects will see her cement a role as Producer but she will take her time before committing to another ongoing TV role.
“It’s important to choose carefully what I do next and there’s got to be a slight mourning period for Julie Rafter. I’m not just going to go and throw myself on the telly for shock value. I kind of want to allow a certain amount of time to go by before I pop up somewhere else,” she insists.
“I think it’s important at this stage of my career to be across everything. To have input into the development of a show, the casting, the direction of where it will go, the directors, writers, everything. And to collaborate. I love being part of a team.
“Julie and Dave need to go off on a holiday and have a wee rest, but I’m open to everything. Never say never!”
And as for the Rafters legacy? It’s everywhere if you look hard enough…
“Rafters was at the forefront of bringing back the family drama. We’ve since seen a follow-on with Offspring, House Husbands and A Place to Call Home. People are showing that they want to watch their own lives.
“Hopefully the next show will be reinventing something else!”
Packed to the Rafters ends with a 2 hour finale 8:45pm tonight.