A ratings success for Channel Nine with 1.249 million people tuning in for Here comes the Habibs – a drama comedy about a Lebanese-Australian family from Sydney’s western suburbs who win the Lotto and move to a mansion in the exclusive suburb of Vaucluse, angering the white neighbours next door. On Tuesday, 22nd March 2016, the Equity Foundation held a wonderful Q and A with the actors and creators of the show.
Rob Shehadie, the show’s creator and writer, said he wanted this to be a family show because there hasn’t been many shows since Acropolis Now (1992) where families sit down and watch a show together every week. He didn’t want the show to be Aussies versus the Lebanese. He said the kids particularly loved watching Here Comes the Habibs and once the kids loved the show, the parents then watched it. Rob did not want the show to be in any way controversial, he just wanted stereotypes set up with an unexpected twist. It was written so viewers would examine the stereotypes through comedy.
Photo courtesy of 9jumpin.com.au
Rob said he first started in comedy as a comedian and then worked with Tahir Bilgic in Fat Pizza. Together they had a concept and wrote a 12 page document pitch which had photos of the characters. They used photos of friends and family and themselves. They then invited Phil Lloyd on board who they knew from Home and Away and who worked at The Jungle Boys production company. Phil knew Rob and Tahir’s work well. Together they fine tuned the pitch, added a catchy log line and synopsis.
photo courtesy of robshehadie.com
“Fou Fou Habib won $22 Million in the lottery, and bought a house (mansion) next door to the O’Neill family. A Comedy satire of both Lebanese and British background Aussies.” Together they approached Andy from Channel Nine who rarely leans forward after hearing many pitches, but after hearing their pitch, he did. Director Darren Ashton was then asked to join the production and the casting process began, to set the tone of the show. They had 5-6 actors in mind for each part to audition. After the audition process finished, the final actors were chosen. Darren Gilshenan was cast to play Jack O’Neal. Darren said what he particularly liked was that his character Jack, represented the voice in every day society. He enjoyed having a say in his character right from the start. Kat Hoyos was cast as the 16 year old, Layla Habib, because she represented the average, every day, social media obsessed teenager with great attitude. Tyler De Nawi played Elias Habib, who said after reading the script,”This will be big!” He said he was finally getting the opportunity to play someone positive in society. Michael Denkha played Fu Fu Habib (the father). “Playing anyone but a terrorist is cool!” he said. Sam Alhaje played Toufic Habib, who said when he first read the script, it was instantly something he wanted to be part of. He finally wasn’t playing a gangster or a criminal. This was a great opportunity to not play a stereotype.
Photo courtesy of Here Comes the Habibs
When the question of diversity came up, Andy (Channel nine) said, “Yes, commercial networks are always wanting to be part of something new.” New stories and characters reflecting our multicultural society in which we live in today? We all hope so, as new writers, creatives and actors were encouraged to make a stand to be heard in this conversation forum. The wheels are definitely in motion. So let’s keep the conversation going so changes are made across the board with diversity at the front of all network executives minds!