GRUNDY, REG

Australian Media Executive

Australia has produced few media moguls and even fewer who are known outside the country. The most remarkable has undoubtedly been Rupert Murdoch but not far behind is the figure of Reg Grundy. And like Murdoch, Grundy's path has been ever upward.

Grundy was born in Sydney, where for ten years he worked in radio as a sporting commentator and personality. He developed a radio game show, Wheel of Fortune, which he transferred to television in 1959. He had earlier realised the importance of having several programs in production at any one point in order to stay in business. Appearing as compere as well as producing Wheel, and realising that U.S. network television was a ready source of program ideas in the area of game shows, he began to adapt programs such as Concentration and Say When for Australian television. He suffered two lean periods over the next decade when all his shows were canceled but by 1970 his business empire was starting to take shape.

The foundation of this enterprise was game shows and by 1970 his company was starting to turn a handsome profit. For Grundy, the economies of television game shows were such that it was possible to sell variants of a game show on a regional or state basis as well as selling on a national basis. By this stage he was displaying the two qualities that made him unique among Australian television packagers. The first was a capacity to spot and hire talented workers who would serve him well as managers and producers. As his company grew, he turned much of the running of things to these employees. The second element of his genius lay in his ability to quickly recognise the value of particular program formats so far as programming and audience appeal were concerned. Increasingly Grundy was to concentrate on searching for new formats, paying particular attention to game shows on American television. By the late 1970s trade in program formats was becoming more formalised with the adaptation of licensing arrangements. By then Grundy had established a firm relationship with the Goodson-Todman group in the United States and had first call on their many television game show formats for adaptation in Australia and the Pacific.

In the late 1970s Grundy's company, now known as the Grundy Organisation, began to purchase game show formats in its own right. Among the first was Sale of the Century. In the meantime the company had also become established in the area of drama production, beginning in 1974 with Class of 74 and continuing into such serials as The Young Doctors, The Restless Years, Prisoner, Sons and Daughters and Neighbours. Having a second economic anchor in drama has made the company enormously secure so far as its finances was concerned.

Several elements now combined into a logic of off-shore development. Having long outgrown its Sydney base and produced game shows for broadcasters both nationally and in other regions, there seemed to be no reason why the company should not expand its productions into other territories. The fact that many of its game shows had come from elsewhere in the first place meant that the company always had an implicit "internationalism". The large cash flow from the game shows and the drama meant that the company had the resources to establish offices elsewhere. In addition after 1980, the company also benefited from the expanding overseas market for Australian television drama. To facilitate this trade, the company appointed an independent agent to handle the distribution of its programs and later set up its own distribution arm. Finally, the company was also building up its catalogue of formats, both through purchase from elsewhere as well as those it had developed itself.

The 1980s and the 1990s outline the story of the Grundy company as an increasingly transnational organisation. The company set up a production office in Los Angeles in 1979 and by 1982 had programs in production in the United States, Hong Kong, and Brunei. The establishment of permanent offices in multiple territories, however, is not part of its long-term goal. After all, in Australia, the company had opened and closed offices in particular state capitals as the demands of production had dictated. The same logic has tended to operate internationally. The key to the transnational operation of Grundy transnationally has lain in the ownership and control of formats both in game shows and drama serials. Grundy has typically sought a local production partner in a particular national territory and this co-production strategy has had three important consequences so far as the company is concerned. It allows Grundy to act in a quality-control role in relation to production; it guarantees that the local production company will establish and maintain the "indigenisation" of the program format; and it enables Grundy to retain control of the format for other territories. Distributing its large packages of drama serials, especially those produced in Australia, ensures that the company has a "calling card" when it seeks to enter new territories.

Nevertheless the company has found it important to establish offices in particular regions. In 1983 the company was re-structured with Grundy World Wide, headquartered in Bermuda, as the parent company. To serve its European operation, the most important sector of its activities, the company has an office in London. It also has permanent offices in Chile to anchor its Latin American operation and an office in Singapore that services Asia. Its Los Angeles office has had a major function in developing new game show formats both for the United States and also for other territories, most especially those in Western Europe.

Where is Reg Grundy in all of this? The answer is that until very recently he was the driving figure behind the very highest executives in his organisation, always aware that good executives and new, attractive formats were the lifeline of his organisation. Unlike a Rupert Murdoch, however, he had no offspring to groom as successors. In 1995 he sold Grundy World Wide to the Pearson International for $386 million (U.S.). The sale saw his executives remain in place, continuing to expand the company. This was likely to accelerate, given that Pearson Television already held the format catalogue of Thames Television. Grundy meanwhile, from his home in Bermuda, through his private investment company, RG Capital, was reported to be seeking shares in several Australian television and radio stations.

-Albert Moran

 


Reg Grundy
Photo courtesy of Grundy Television

REG GRUNDY. Born in Sydney, Australia, 1923. Educated at St. Peter's College. Married Joy Chalmers. Worked as a sports commentator and a time salesman with Sydney radio station 2CH; host, a radio quiz show, 1957, which he subsequently took to television TCN 9, 1959; founder, Reg Grundy Enterprises, 1960; leading producer of game shows in Australian television; expanded into production of drama serials, from 1973, including The Young Doctors, The Restless Years, Prisoner and Neighbours; company reorganized as Grundy Organisation, 1978; opened its first overseas office in Los Angeles, 1979; Grundy relocated to Bermuda, 1982; sold the television company to Pearson Television, United Kingdom, 1995.

FURTHER READING

Bielby, Peter, editor. Australian TV: The First Twenty Five Years. Melbourne, Australia: Nelson, in Association with Cinema Papers, 1981.

Dawtrey, Adam. "Media Magnet: Pearson Plays the Field." Variety (Los Angeles), 10 April 1995.

Gelman, Morrie. "TV's Multinational Forces to be Reckoned With." Broadcasting and Cable (Washington, D.C.), 23 January 1995.

Groves, Don. "Grundy Spins 'Wheel' Throughout Far East: 'Fortune,' 'Feud' Set, China, India Targeted." Variety (Los Angeles), 19 December 1994.

Hall, Sandra. Supertoy: 20 Years of Australian Television, Melbourne, Australia: Sun Books, 1976.

Jacka, Elizabeth, and Lesley Johnson. "Australia." In, Smith, Anthony, editor. Television, An International History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

McClellan, Steve. "Grundy Targets European Barter: Division will Develop Sponsored Programs." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), 24 August 1992.

O'Regan, Tom. Australian Television Culture. Sydney, Australia: Allen and Unwin, 1994.