For & Against: Can a gig on community television lead to bigger and better things?

FOR: Jess Harris, co-creator, writer and star of ABC2’s comedy series Twentysomething

Josh Schmidt (Twentysomething co-creator) and I wanted to get into the industry but we didn’t really know the gap between having an idea and making it a job. We knew about community station Channel 31 because our friend, Ryan Shelton, had done a show on 31 called Radio Karate. We decided to make a series about being in your twenties, struggling and not really knowing what you’re doing with your life.

It took us about two years to finish the six episodes and we didn’t get in contact with Channel 31 until the very end. We called them up and said, “we’ve got six episodes here of a show we would love to air on your channel”. We had to pay an airing fee so we got RMITV, RMIT University’s media production group, to help us out by sponsoring the show.

Twentysomething aired on Channel 31 and we got quite a bit of feedback in the media and so we thought maybe this is going to be it; someone’s going to see it and they’ll want to do it again but that didn’t happen straight away. Everyone saw it, liked it, congratulated us and then moved on.

It wasn’t until Josh was putting together a documentary for the ABC that Debbie Lee, the executive producer, saw it. At that time, Screen Australia and Film Victoria were running a program called Stitch created to fund new narrative-based comedies. Through Stitch we received development funding and the show was commissioned.

If you’re doing it for the right reasons, to create and for people to see your work, then you should be happy with your program being on Channel 31. It’s a dream to see Twentysomething on ABC2 but we didn’t mind if it didn’t go past Channel 31.

There are some shows that are definitely meant to just be on community television that are not suited to commercial television.

What’s next for us? Hopefully a second season of Twentysomething. We’re just basking in the glory of the finished project at the moment.

AGAINST: Yianni Zinonos, creator and host of Yianni’s City Life showing on TVS and Channel 31

I am one of the most well-known community television producers and personalities in the country. My national program Yianni’s City Life is made in Sydney and broadcast in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. I have generated massive print publicity. I am a B-grade socialite. I go to heaps of events and functions. Everyone seems to know who I am and everyone has watched my show at least once. I have been called the “gay Greek Kerri-Anne” and the “king of community television”. I am a brand.

This year the public could vote for my show to win a Logie in the category of Best Lifestyle Program. Despite months of begging, I couldn’t get an invite to the awards.

The truth is, almost no-one is making the transition from community television to the mainstream, although that’s the dream I was sold.

I have had many meetings with major production houses and television stations. The commissioning editor at SBS told me they have so many programs coming in from overseas; they don’t know where to slot me.

I was approached by Foxtel’s Aurora Channel. They said they would charge me $500 per episode to broadcast and I would have to sell advertising to recoup costs.

I have spoken to as many influential people as possible but the doors seem shut. I cannot even get an agent to promote or manage me.

Community television is never mentioned or acknowledged in broadcast media.

All the majors seem to know that if they take community television personalities on, once they are finished with them, they will reappear on TVS or Channel 31, just as Melbourne’s Vasili’s Garden did after a move to SBS didn’t work out.

Ratings are another issue. They are rarely released, which makes it hard to quantify our audience for sponsorship or promotion.

Since TVS went digital last year, the audience has grown dramatically, and although we are considered a mainstream channel by the public, this is certainly not the case in the industry’s eyes.


  1. Corrie
    8 Dec 11
    11:25 am

  2. Hear, hear for Community TV!

    As our media landscape converges into a market where content will become key, I think we are going to see a lot more of the Yianni’s and Jess’s, whether it be online, Free to Air or STV.

    I (naturally) am for Community TV. These channels provide many talented Australians, whether it be crew, publicity, marketing, writers, producers and programmers; their first step onto the highly competitive media ladder.

    Aurora prides itself on being a launch pad for independent producers, with 6-10 hours of premiere Australian made content screening every week. We are proud of all our independent producers who make quality television year in year out and admire how a lot of the programs we screen are the result of one person’s vision to make a TV show, not for the accolades, but purely for the love of the craft.

    Corrie McDougall
    Programming & Production Manager
    Aurora Community Channel

  3. Sean Pary
    8 Dec 11
    11:17 pm

  4. Hi All,

    Happy Friday!!!

    I agree with Corrie. If it wasn’t for community TV and the opportunity Aurora has given us we wouldn’t have ever been able to launch our talk show dedicated to unearthing Australian talent.

    We would be interested in getting Jess Harris on our show to be interviewed. Feel free to pass on my details – or contact me direct on 0425 754 088

    Best regards

    Sean Pary
    Executive Producer / Host

  5. Jeff
    9 Dec 11
    9:05 am

  6. Personally I can’t wait until the old way of doing things comes tumbling down. I give free to air another 3-5 years at best. A slow revolution is coming and its going to be driven by people with talent and ideas. There’s a new way of doing things IPTV and when the infrastructure is in place all the old barriers will fall away. Narrow minded producers will have to lift their game and realise that their is a huge audience out there wanting variety. Finally people with ideas and talent will get a break and the closed doors of industry will look like a sad joke. Community TV will just be one of thousands of options. it’s an exciting time to be living if you have some creative spark.

  7. Brian
    9 Dec 11
    12:37 pm

  8. For those in the community TV know: Do you always have to pay an airing fee to get your show on the air? Seems like it would discourage many creators who could just as easily use youtube for free…

    Why does our country have no good pipelines to an industry job like the UK and USA?

  9. Adrian Sherlock
    11 Dec 11
    9:00 pm

  10. Well, I produced what was (as far as I’m aware) the first ever drama serial for Melbourne’s Channel 31 in 1998/9 and subsequently a more professional pilot film based on it and have since turned it into a web series which had had over 250,000 hits on YouTube. And it’s gotten me absolutely nowhere.

    So I agree with the person who says they hope the old way of things tumbles. But I also think the new ways of doing stuff needs some help to really become a viable alternative. I’m a YouTube Partner but haven’t made a red cent. And I think until I have some kind of support from initiatives like Film Victoria to develop and promote what I’m doing, the situation wont improve much.

    I do see stuff like online video as similar to the early days of live TV, it’s ropey and rough. But it also has the potential to earn advertising dollars and grow as TV did. The problem is, not much of the money is shared with the content makers, who continue to produce content on a budget of zero.

    Things can change but the indie video makers need support!

  11. Sean Pary
    14 Dec 11
    7:48 pm

  12. In reply to Yianni Zinonos comments – If a young 26 year old boy from Brunswick can get his talk show on national pay then anyone can. It’s about how badly you want to make it happen. Enough with the excuses and just do it.