LOSING two crucial sets – the Duncan Hotel and the Sibekos’ penthouse – in the fire on June 13 was a heavy blow for Isidingo’s production house, Endemol, as well as SABC3.

And while the damage, which ran into the millions, was being assessed and an investigation of the cause of the blaze was under way, the soap’s writing team took full stock of the huge setback on their hands.

Kelley Thorrington, the show’s assistant head writer since April, but holding the title of acting head writer, says: “Fortunately, we had just come out of the trial of Bianca, who lost her baby because of listeria in the water. We used that seed as a way to go forward (for the miniseries).”

Expanding on the logistical and production issues, she says: “The biggest challenge is going from a set to an outdoor location shoot. Plus, we had missing scenes in the soap.”

That’s not forgetting about the high cost of location shoots.

Unlike in the past, where Isidingo ran as a miniseries like when Ashley Callie died, this hasn’t been treated as “a standalone” offering.

“Here, we have to convince our viewers this is a normal scenario,” explains Thorrington. “Something has to happen on The Deep to get people running out of their homes. And we used the listeria story – drawing from real-life examples and a story featured on Carte Blanche – where the characters find themselves stopped at roadblocks and brought back from holiday.

“The authorities tell them about the water scare and it becomes a huge quarantine situation as things get more out of control.”

How disruptive will it be to Isidingo buffs, or will it be a smooth storyline transition?

“I think it is going to be freakin’ exciting because of the high drama. As a writing team, we have to service 20 characters as well. It is a monumental task. Our characters’ lives are severely disrupted by something that turns out to be a virus. One character falls ill. We also take another character, who the audience loves, to death’s door.”

The emotional upheaval caused by the scare is aimed at keeping viewers on tenterhooks for four weeks until the soap can resume with the burnt sets recreated, barring a few fresh changes.

Thorrington says they decided against incorporating the fire into the storyline.

Of the highlights in the miniseries, she hints: “Frank Xavier and Beth McNamara are prominent players. Vusi makes a brief comeback. Most of our characters are in a community hall. There will be a kidnapping, a murder, lots of deaths (not of any main characters) and one helluva fun concert. And there are lots of comical moments with Lerato and Sechaba – all of this pitted against the drama of ‘What the hell is this virus?’”

While the miniseries is currently in edit, Thorrington is positive that Isidingo fans will be so completely immersed in the storyline that they won’t be too cut up about the shift.

The Isidingo miniseries airs from August 28 to September 4 on SABC3 at 7.30pm.