The Grundy Organisation was the second of three companies owned and operated by Australian television production mogul Reginald Roy Grundy, AC, OBE (1923– ). It was established in 1979 as a springboard for the international expansion of the company, and became a successful transnational empire.
Born in Sydney, Reg Grundy joined commercial radio in the 1940s as a sporting commentator and time salesman. He developed a radio game show, Wheel of Fortune, which he took to TCN9 in 1959 as an independent producer who would ‘package’ a television version of the quiz show for the station. Following a trend in Hollywood and US network television, Grundy incorporated himself as a company, Reg Grundy Enterprises, thereby achieving considerable tax savings. The 36-year-old worked as both host and producer on the television version of Wheel of Fortune, just as he had with the radio version. This show itself was Grundy’s own invention; however, the new ‘packager’ soon discovered that he did not have the time or capacity to develop new quiz programs. Instead, realising that US network television could serve as a ready source of new quiz show ideas, Grundy began visiting the United States to source attractive formats for adapting and remaking back in Australia.
During the 1960s, Reg Grundy twice suffered the simultaneous cancellation of all his shows, but by 1970 he had rebounded. His Australian television production empire grew apace. To safeguard itself against program cancellation, it stepped up its quiz show output and brought in independent producers to make drama series, telemovies and children’s fiction. It also added a very successful drama serial division, which produced hits like The Young Doctors, The Restless Years, Prisoner, Sons and Daughters and Neighbours.
Beginning in 1980, the company began to move offshore, bankrolled by the cash flow from its Australian operation. Television systems internationally were undergoing multiplication, commercialisation and, in the case of public service broadcasters, privatisation. A US production office was set up in 1979 and Grundy sold several game shows to the US networks for their daytime line-up. One of the most successful of these was Sale of the Century, a US-originated quiz show that the company copied as early as 1970, and that it would later purchase outright and remake in more than a dozen different territories. The Grundy US operation also found itself devising other quiz and game shows, some of which became US network programs while other versions were remade in other territories. However, although Grundy was personally committed to success there, the US network market closed up. The rise of talk shows squeezed opportunities to sell quiz shows. Moreover, Dangerous Women—a US spin-off of his groundbreaking and iconic Australian soap opera Prisoner that he financed himself—did poorly.
The company, now known as Grundy World Wide outside Australia (where it continued as the Grundy Organisation), fared much better in the United Kingdom, Western Europe, South America and parts of Asia. Altogether, it produced quiz and drama in more than 20 countries, generating considerable wealth. In 1995, Grundy sold the company to the UK Pearson Television group for A$380 million. It was one of 20 company acquisitions by the group, which eventually was bought out by the German Bertelsmann Group, adopting the name FremantleMedia. The Australian branch plant of the conglomerate was known as Grundy Television from 1995 to 2005 but eventually adopted the name of the parent operation.
Why did Reg Grundy sell? He was 72 years of age at the time, had no heirs to carry on the business (he was estranged from his only daughter), and achieved an excellent price with himself still at the company helm. He probably continued to smart from the US disappointment, and realised that he did not have the means to turn his company into a mega conglomerate through merger and acquisition.
Grundy has four claims to continuing significance. First, he was among the first Australian independent program ‘packagers’ and the only Australian television producer to take his business offshore, becoming an important international media presence in the process. Second, he amassed a sizeable fortune in the course of his production career. Third, he brought soap opera to Western Europe for the first time, so that some of his programs, originals and remakes were still on air after more than 20 years in production. Finally, he helped to pioneer and develop a program format industry that has changed the face of television across the world.
REFs: R. Grundy, Reg Grundy (2010); A. Moran, TV Format Mogul~ (2012).