Features

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.

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