Featured Player: Reg Grundy

Forget reality, vet invented the 'Wheel'

SIDNEY — If TV veteran Reg Grundy had his time over again, you get the strong impression he would not be making many of the reality shows that have been in vogue around the world in the past few years.

“What’s real about having a camera crew recording your every intimate moment?” asks the 79-year-old who created and produced hundreds of shows of various genres as the founder of the Grundy Organization in 1958. It went on to become TV production powerhouse Grundy Worldwide, which he sold to British media group Pearson for $279 million in 1995.

Grundy, who will receive a special award at the Monte Carlo TV fest (June 30-July 5), admires “Survivor,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “American Idol” as well-made, entertaining shows.

But while he acknowledges the popularity of “Big Brother,” he says its voyeuristic content “is not to my taste.”

What is to his taste is gameshows, including “Wheel of Fortune,” a radio gameshow he developed and adapted for TV in 1959. By then, the ambitious Sydney-born exec had spent 10 years as a radio sporting commentator and personality.

But “Wheel” launched him on a new career — the entrepreneurial introduction of gameshows in the early days of Australian television.

Grundy pioneered what he terms “parochial internationalism,” producing shows in various countries via fully owned production banners in each territory.

At its peak, Grundy Worldwide was active in 18 markets, including the U.S. Indeed, he could teach the young pups of the business a thing or two about how to crack the world’s toughest market.

His big Stateside breakthrough in 1983 was producing NBC’s “Sale of the Century” (ironically, a U.S. format to which he added numerous elements), the first non-Yank to do a gameshow for the Peacock.

“I visited America many times before I got that break,” he recalls. “My philosophy has always been that you must be willing to fail. Just keep throwing punches … you’re bound to hit something eventually. Finally (NBC’s) Brandon Tartikoff was impressed with my pitch and gave me my chance.”

NBC subsequently commissioned “Scrabble” and “Time Machine” from Grundy, and “Scrabble” and “Sale” ran for six years.

In the mid-1970s, the company moved into drama and sudser production, beginning in 1974 with “Class of ’74” and continuing with “The Young Doctors,” “The Restless Years,” “Prisoner: Cell Block H,” “Sons and Daughters” and the sudser “Neighbors,” which launched Kyle Minogue.

Former Seven Network Australia programmer Glen Kinging had numerous meetings with Grundy over the years.

“I can’t think of a single person in the production business today who has Reg’s knowledge of the industry,” Kinging says. “Unlike most CEOs, he was a hands-on creator, not just a businessman. And he loved all forms of television.”

His passion has earned Grundy a slew of trophies, including an Intl. Emmy/Founders Award and an Order of the British Empire for his services to Australian TV.

Since selling his firm, Grundy and his wife, Joy, have traveled widely from their longtime base in Bermuda. He indulges his passion for wildlife photography and keeps an eye on his business interests, which include Australia’s leading regional radio network, RG Capital Radio.

And the creative juices are still flowing. “I’ve got a drawer full of drama concepts and formats,” he says. “I keep adding to them. Who knows … maybe one day?”