Southern Star’s Janeen Faithfull on making great TV

After 16 years at Seven, Janeen Faithfull joined production company Southern Star in February. The CEO tells Brooke Hemphill how to make shows audiences want to watch.

Between Big Brother, Puberty Blues and Howzat! Southern Star is doing well in the current TV landscape. You must be pleased.

We are thrilled. There are a lot of people working very hard to get the shows out. Big Brother’s half way through the run now and we’re really happy with how it’s performed. Channel Nine’s very happy and we’re hopeful that we’ll see the series out on the same numbers and hopefully we’ll do it all again next year.

Tell us about Big Brother. Did Southern Star set out to change it up for its return to Australian television?

The show was off the air for four years and we’re the producer not the broadcaster and there is a big difference between the broadcasters here in Australia. Channel Nine has demographics which are broader so we needed to ensure that the housemates were selected in order to fulfil the requirements for Nine in relation to connecting with their audience.

What is the company’s biggest strength – reality or drama?

Southern Star has been in business for decades and it has always had a very strong pedigree in drama and as television moved into more of the non-scripted reality, the company went with it initially by acquiring non-scripted content. Light entertainment and comedy have also been a part of our history as has kids programming. The relationship that Southern Star’s had with Endemol has strengthened game show and reality formats.

Do you think independent production houses are a dying breed?

It’s going to depend on who the principals of the company are, what it is they want to achieve, what sort of mass they want to grow to and what expertise they want to continue to cultivate. There are very successful smaller companies that focus on factual or documentary. Screentime is a smaller company and has a wonderful slate of predominately drama but also documentary and reality shows. I can’t speak for any other organisation but one thing I know is Australians love to watch Australian shows and there’s plenty of opportunity no matter whether you’re big, small or medium.

Is it tough to get TV commissioned at the moment?

There’s no question it’s a challenge but it’s been challenging for a long time. The market continues to be fragmented with all of the emerging platforms and there has been a slump in revenues but ultimately the networks  are in business and they still want to win so all we can do is create and produce television that we hope they want to buy. In these times there is caution but a good program will get commissioned. Hopefully it’s from us.

What does it take to make television people want to watch?

It’s really about instinct. It’s important you are aware of what audience you want to reach. Research is also important but research usually validates. I don’t believe it dictates.

What do you have coming up?

Paper Giants: Magazine Wars, we’re in the last week of production on that. Then we have series four and five of Offspring coming through. We’re hopeful to finalize Puberty Blues Two and several other drama series that are in development.

Janeen Faithfull is the CEO of television production company Southern Star responsible for Big Brother, Puberty Blues, Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War, and Paper Giants.




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