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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Vale Reg Grundy (2) - Graham Shirley recalls a career moment working for the savviest TV producer we've known

Although I never met Reg Grundy, I did work for six memorable months at the headquarters of his television production empire in 1989.

The venue was Grundy House, a several-storeyed building near the corner of Pacific Highway and Epping Road, Artarmon, Sydney. The show was Series 2 of Australia’s Most Wanted, a program that Grundy Television produced on two separate occasions, firstly in 1989 and again between 1993 and 1999. On the 1989 series I was research coordinator, which meant supervising four other researchers as well as checking the status of cases with police around Australia just before air time. I was also a conduit between the researchers, the series’ writers and script editors, producers and executive producers. While the show’s producers sometimes felt stretched by the realities of sudden case-solved breakthroughs, where the Grundy machine really excelled was its intensive scheduling of freelance directors and actors who travelled five days a week with the Grundy crew to actual scenes of crimes or to similar locations to film the 5-to-10 minute re-enactments. There could be an interesting tension between the wildfire nature of events moving on in the real world and the efficient production-line nature of Grundy’s making of the mini-drama re-enactments. I gained a solid sense that drama was what Grundy’s were particularly good at, but outside reality could rock the boat if a case radically changed direction.

Ad for the program 1989
While it will be up to others to describe to what extent Reg Grundy himself chose the people and gave the go-ahead for his company’s drama and shows, there was no doubt in my mind that he was the company boss and had chosen the key people to make it happen. By 1989 Grundy’s was the Sydney-based equivalent of the Melbourne-based Crawford productions in terms of providing the closest semblance to an Australian non-government drama studio system since Ken G. Hall’s Cinesound Productions in the 1930s. Many of the production team and writers on AMW had learned their skills over the years since Grundy’s had started producing drama in the early 1970s, and the more senior writers and producers now mentored new writers and directors who were in their 20s and 30s.

Some of the research materials (especially the photographs) I saw for the extreme cases that AWM re-enacted were highly confronting and have stayed in my memory to this day. Previously relaxed about household security, I now double-checked that the front and back doors of my family home were locked, the children were inside and the blinds drawn the moment I got home at night. Many of the missing persons cases were heartbreaking, and I lost count of the number of parents and other relatives who phoned me to plead for their missing loved one to be mentioned on AWM for a third or fourth time.

The program was rating so well in its Sunday night 7.30 time slot that there was palpable feeling of shock at Grundy’s when the Seven network announced in late 1989 that it would not commission a third series but would instead fill its time slot with an Australian female police drama series called Skirts (1990), produced by Roger Le Mesurier and Roger Simpson in Melbourne. Skirts failed to capture the kind of ratings that AMW had enjoyed, and three years later Seven re-committed to Australia’s Most Wanted from Grundys.


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