Erik Thomson stars as newspaper columnist George Turner in 800 Words.
Erik Thomson stars as newspaper columnist George Turner in 800 Words. Channel 7

Comedy drama 800 Words has captured our hearts (and ratings)

AUSTRALIAN viewers have welcomed Erik Thomson back on to their screens with open arms.

The Packed to the Rafters favourite plays a new TV dad in the comedy drama 800 Words.

Thomson plays widowed father and newspaper columnist George Turner, who moves his two teenage kids from Sydney to the small beachside town Weld, in New Zealand, to start afresh after the sudden death of his wife.

It was a dream project for the 48-year-old, who was born in Scotland but grew up in New Zealand and now lives in the South Australian wine growing region of McLaren Vale.

"One of the urban myths about New Zealand is that it's always cold," he tells APN.

"Where we shot in the north part of the North Island it's subtropical… I really, really liked the climate.

"As Billy Connolly said there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes."

Thomson humbly plays down his role as an associate producer of the series, which is already the most-watched show on Tuesday nights after just three episodes.

Benson Jack Anthony, Erik Thomson and Melina Vidler star in the TV series 800 Words.
Benson Jack Anthony, Erik Thomson and Melina Vidler star in the TV series 800 Words. Channel 7

"I spent the first year oiling the wheels to make it happen," he says.

"You could say I championed the project. I was involved in helping to find locations and the casting.

"But as soon as we finished shooting it was someone else's job to deal with those post-production decisions. I loved it; none of it felt like a job at all."

After watching the careers of his young Rafters co-stars take off, Thomson was well equipped to help cast his two on-screen children in 800 Words, played by Melina Vidler (Shay) and Benson Jack Anthony (Arlo).

"That was my biggest concern, getting the right actors in there. If we didn't get good kids and get the Turner family as solid as we could then we'd be pushing it uphill," he says.

"They were the first kids we saw and, funnily enough, from that point onwards we saw a lot of other people but they just never got pushed off that top position.

"We get on well; we rib each other. It's two against one most of the time, but I'm old enough and ugly enough to handle it (laughs)."

The show also lovingly pokes fun at small-town life.

"We didn't want to patronise, but cliches exist for a reason," he says.

"Small towns are exactly like that. People are very friendly because that's how small communities operate. People genuinely care, but then there's that moment when caring too much involves sharing a lot about yourself.

"The good thing is as the series progresses and the skins of the onion fall away, he (George) gets to know the people there and we get behind those archetypes and find all the people have life stories and histories."

800 Words has been likened to a cross between SeaChange and Rafters, and Thomson doesn't shy away from the comparisons.

"I think every TV network in the world hopes a new show has the success that Rafters had," he says.

"Obviously we never wanted to put pressure on the production to equal Rafters and we don't want to be compared to Rafters but it's inevitable. If people liked Rafters then I think they'll like 800 Words.

"But if some people didn't like Rafters they might like 800 Words. It's its own thing."

800 Words airs Tuesdays at 8.40pm on Channel 7.