When an old TV series goes through a “reboot” or a new season for the first time in over two decades, it’s essential that a fan is involved in making it.
The brand new series of Heartbreak High, that was originally made by Gannon Television between 1994 and 1998 in Australia, is returning, and drops on Netflix on September 14 2022.
Here, the initiator and co-producer of the new series, Jeroen Koopman, owner of Amsterdam-based production company NewBe (pictured above, credit Wessel de Groot), talks to Ian Golden and Lieuwe Van Albada about how it all came about.
How did you get involved with making Heartbreak High for a new generation?
I am the biggest fan of the original series. Okay, maybe not the biggest, but a big fan for sure. I cycled back home everyday to be inside in time to watch the new episode. I was also an inline skater, so I identified with Drazic. I was also already involved with making videos. Fast-forward 25 years later, where I have my own production company, NewBe.
We produce films and series mainly for streamers. The audiences we focus on are millennials and Gen-Z. So we see a lot of high-school-themed projects. A few years ago we had lunch, and the subject of Heartbreak High came up. A colleague of mine was also a fan and we started talking about it, and then we watched the old trailer on YouTube. And still, 25 years later, it felt like something that is NOW. And I said, jokingly, we should make a reboot. It was just a bold idea. I started Googling to find out who had the rights to Heartbreak High. That was quite unclear, as unfortunately, Ben Gannon passed away. His production company was also hard to find.
Back then we had a video show on LinkedIn where we showed the “The adventures of NewBe”, to show in a humorous way our endeavours to clients and partners. And I thought: ‘let’s include this idea in our video series’. So we did that, let the viewers participate in our idea of making a new version of the series and immediately it got a lot of response. It was by far our most watched video on LinkedIn. It got even picked up by the press that asked us: “so you’re doing a reboot of Heartbreak High?”
But then it was still only an idea. But we realised there was a lot of interest in it. It took us about a year to be able to get the rights. While we were doing it other parties also started showing interest. When we eventually got them, it was picked up as big news.
How was it decided which direction the new series would go in?
Together with my creative NewBe partner Tarik Traidia we spent a lot of time analysing the original series, and thinking about the question of what a reboot is. What is the pitch? The end-plan was to eventually bring it to a big streamer like Netflix.
What would it be about? We could for example say: ‘It’s gonna be about Drazic and Anita living in Amsterdam’. Anything is possible! We suddenly realised: “Oh wow, it’s now up to us to decide what happened to Drazic and Anita, a big responsibility!’
We initially did also think of maybe making a European version with the original cast, crazy ideas like that, but after thinking about it longer I think a reimagining for a new generation is a logical end-point for a creative path.
In my opinion, it’s impossible to give the old audience the same exact feeling the original series gave you – it will never live up to the original feeling you had when you were young watching the original series. So our goal was to give a new generation that same feeling, the feeling I know I had watching the series and I know you had while watching it.
Creativity is like a funnel, it goes through a lot of phases and we all thought initially “oh, Drazic and Anita” but if you think about it longer, you think “is that what we want as it would never live up to how you remember it?” Hannah Carroll Chapman, the head writer and creator, has done an amazing job and I know she followed a similar path. She steered it in the way it eventually went.
As a Dutch Company, how did you end up in Australia?
One of the other key creative decisions back then was that the new series had to be situated in Australia again. What seems logical, because the original series was situated in Australia. But for us as a Dutch company based in Amsterdam it was in fact a very impractical creative decision, because we don’t have an office there, or a crew. So after the first creative development, we started what we call a ‘beauty contest’. We tried to find the best fitting production partner in Australia. We spoke to a lot of them and decided unanimously it was going to be Fremantle Australia. I felt we had the same nostalgic feeling and the same enthusiasm. We are still very happy with that decision and them as co-production partner.
From there on we created it together, we were in Amsterdam and they were in Australia. With the pandemic we were never able to actually go there. So it was always in a video call situation. From there on we went from sitting in the driver seat to the so-called shotgun seat. It was a real adventure. It was pitched to Netflix Australia and they quickly said yes. I believe that decision also led to them licensing the original series for Netflix.
So you managed to get the original co-creator Michael Jenkins involved?
Yes, and Brian Abel (who was also involved in the original production and was the partner of the other co-creator, the late Ben Gannon). They read along with scripts and gave feedback. For us it was very important to have them, as part of the original creators. To have them involved and guard what the original series was about. At the same time they gave a lot of freedom to the new team. It was inevitable that if you want a new generation of viewers to have the same feeling as what we had back then, to give the new writers team freedom because they know better than us what is relevant today. The original series was next level for us, it has to be next level for them, too.
The new series seems to be bringing back a lot of the multiculturalism that the original series also had.
It’s weird to realise that the series back then was more diverse than a lot of series are now. That is also why we really felt doing a reboot needs to push the boundaries. Every aspect. I obviously watched the series in a lot of versions, but now in the final version I started watching it again as a viewer, not as a producer. I’m not necessarily easily proud of something we do, but this is making me proud. I am really enthusiastic about how it turned out. Also as a fan of the original series. There are some really cool easter eggs in it for nostalgia viewers too, it is very cleverly done. I wonder if you will spot them all! All credits to the writers there, it’s an Australian writing team, with Hannah Carroll Chapman in the lead. She’s done very clever writing work. Can’t underline that enough!
Based on the trailer, many comparisons were made with Sex Education and Euphoria. Do you think that’s right? And how do you ensure that you continue to do your own thing, and that you are not crammed into a box too much?
I think back in the day people would have said: ‘Oh this is 90210 but then in Australia!’ I think that’s the way it works. People will recognise something they already know. And they will say this is like this or that. But also 90210 was inspired by something else. In the basics, Heartbreak High is inspired by the original Heartbreak High. But it can also be seen as the Australian take on Sex Education. There is thematic overlap. But Sex Education is more polished and formatted, whereas the reboot of Heartbreak High is far more raw and layered. More exciting. But it’s a big compliment if people compare it to Sex Education, because I think that is a phenomenal show.
So, of course we have a few questions about what else we can expect from the reboot… Are we gonna get the original opening theme music?
I’m not sure if I am allowed to say.
I can say music plays such an important role, and the team started choosing music way before the series started shooting and even way before the scripts were finished. A lot of effort has been put in to select the right music and there’s a lot of nostalgic music and obviously a lot of music for the new generation.
So music and culture is very important. There’s no Jodie type character, so there’s no singer/songwriter character in that sense, but creativity is very important in the series.
There are multiple rumours about original cast members returning. Kurt was already spotted in the teaser trailer. Was there a conscious decision not to publicise any legacy characters who are returning?
I am not responsible for announcing. Netflix Australia does the PR. I personally really like the way they return as it’s done in a very cool way, very good references, you feel the age difference between the current and legacy characters and what place in that generation they are. The nostalgia viewers will recognise some, but I’m not allowed to tell. There’s big PR from Netflix to come and I don’t want to spoil that.
In Australia, this is being announced as one of the biggest shows (ever), we’ve never seen such a big marketing and PR campaign ever. The billboard pictures are huge and they’re all across the country.
Will there be a Shark Pool type of place?
In every high school series, there is a place where people meet outside of school. The reboot has that in a way but it’s not the same as the Shark Pool. Things are different these days and social media plays a different role in this generation than it did in ours for instance. But we want to give the new generation the same feeling that leads to follow up decisions, like we had.
Will parents and teachers play a big role in the new series, like they did in the original?
We do see an example in the trailer. Generational and teacher conflicts will play a very important role in the series. I’m very proud of how that turned out. I think that is quite similar to how we remembered the original series. The role of the police and racism is similar, but there are also new issues like climate change, that we didn’t have as much when we were young.
Are you afraid that this will disappear as just another Netflix show?
If something is very important to you, you get afraid. So with this reboot I’m afraid of everything. A lot of love has been put into this, we want the world watching it, but we don’t have control over that anymore. It’s on Netflix and they’re doing everything they can to promote it over there. I’ve a very positive feeling about it, but it first needs to work in Australia and then it will spread, like the original series did.
How popular would HH need to be for a second season to be commissioned?
That’s a decision for Netflix, but first of all, an effort is needed to make season one as popular as possible. We’ll take it from there.
What would you say to fans of the original series who are skeptical about the reboot?
Don’t judge a book by its reboot cover. I’m very excited about this and think that there will be enough references and similar vibes and feeling to appeal to older viewers as well as those who are new. The trailers have been made for new viewers, but nostalgia viewers have to watch the show to find out.