Some of Australia’s leading independent TV producers gathered at the upmarket Sydney home of Nine Network boss David Gyngell last night for a Christmas drink and a chat about 2009. Gyngell again put the heat on for new ideas to meet the challenge of trying to stay in touch with the Seven Network.

But as they ate, drank French champagne (Veuve) and talked about Nine’s production slate, Ten’s woes and Seven’s dominance, many would have been wondering if Nine was up to the challenge and whether Gyngell’s claims to have more money available for programming in 2009 would pan out.

Nine’s owners PBL Media will find out in the next week if its 60 banks have greenlighted the recapitalisation of the company by owners, CVC, with a corresponding easing of the restrictions on the company’s debt load.

That was perhaps the explanation for Gyngell’s claim to have more money in 2009. It will be borrowed — it won’t come from operations, with ad revenues projected to fall sharply by up to 5%.

But producers there reported a pleasant evening, with none of the hard sell that Gyngell is well known for. Freehand’s Peter Abbott and Chris O’Mara were there, Hugh Marks of Southern Star, John Edwards, a producer director (Rush on Ten), Sarah Smith (who is overseeing Nine’s new police drama called Rescue), Hilton Cordell, Andrew Denton and Anita Jacobi of Zapruder’s Other Films (is Denton doing something for Nine now that he’s quit on-camera work at the ABC?).

Many independent producers are upset at the way Seven has been throwing its weight around over the sale of Southern Star by Fairfax Media.

A couple of major independents have speculated that by delaying and frustrating the sale of Southern Star to Fremantle, Seven and its CEO David Leckie had a major but unseen role in the departure of David Kirk as Fairfax CEO.

It will now be up to Brian McCarthy to try and resurrect the Southern Star deal. That’s why Endemol has resurfaced as a frontrunner after having a look earlier on but being outbid by Fremantle.

Seven has threatened to take its lucrative overseas distribution contracts from Southern Star if Fremantle buys it. Acquiring Southern Star would make Fremantle by far the biggest independent producer in this country and capable of standing up to the tactics of the networks who want a large number of smaller groups to play off against each other.

That’s why many at David Gyngell’s soiree last night saw the irony of Mark Fennessy of Fremantle swapping name tags with Hugh Marks of Southern Star. It was as much a joke as a comment on Seven’s stand on the acquisition.