Never mind his five-foot-five frame, Andrew Denton is a colossus in TV land. He’s returning to our screens soon to host a new show, but it’s his work off camera that really counts.

The bespectacled boss of production house Zapruder’s Other Films has got his fingerprints all over some of the country’s most popular original television content, including The Gruen Transfer and the Chaser. That’s about to be ramped up, as Zapruder’s undergoes a merger with rival local entity Cordell Jigsaw to create a new “super indie”.

Meanwhile, his on-screen influence is also set for a boost later this year when the former Enough Rope host returns to screens for new ABC word game quiz show Randling.

“He has a restless intellect, constantly coming up with new ideas and is desperate to make them work,” ABC managing director Mark Scott tells The Power Index. Admired for his fierce intelligence and sharp wit, Denton also wins praise from the Aunty boss for working tirelessly to “create shows with more depth and more rigour than anything else out there”.

Indeed, those who have worked with him also describe a “very demanding taskmaster” and “a perfectionist”, qualities which can have “massive upsides and occasional downsides”.

When The Power Index asks to speak with Denton it’s a sign of just how busy the man is when all he can spare is 20 minutes between a constant schedule of taping. Asked why he’s returning to an on-camera role despite once saying he wouldn’t “unless it was Dancing With The Stars Underwater“, the former FM radio host gives hints of a man who likes to be in control.

“It was both practical and romantic. The heart bit was we spent the past two years working on this show … and what I realised by the end of that process was I was really having a lot of fun,” Denton tells The Power Index. “The head bit was that because I knew the show so intimately it seemed to me that I was best placed to deliver it as it should be delivered.”

Denton’s zeal has seen Zapruder’s pump out a conveyor belt of innovative TV content, much of which has been spun into ratings gold across both the commercial and public broadcasters.

“The ABC still remains the best place to do that [produce original content] because they don’t tend to deal with the multinational format houses,” he says, adding there are still opportunities at the commercial stations “depending on what mood you catch them in: confident or fearful”.

Some of the new formats he’s made work include the Gruen series and Hungry Beast on the ABC, AFP: Australian Federal Police on Nine and Can of Worms on Ten. Factual documentary Country Town Rescue is currently screening on the ABC.

And then there’s his role in giving the Chaser boys their big break, having helped get the comedy troupe on TV after recognising their talent in a satirical newspaper they were putting out. The Chaser team has since gone it alone to produce their own shows.

“Our career is entirely Andrew Denton’s fault, so he has a lot to answer for,” Chaser executive producer Julian Morrow tells The Power Index. “He was our comedy fairy godfather, he essentially created the opportunity for us to make television.”

Advertising panel show The Gruen Transfer, in particular, has been an unlikely mega hit for Zapruder’s, with numerous spin-offs, and remains one of the most popular shows on the ABC.

Denton says his involvement in programs like Gruen extends to production meetings, overseeing the script and all key editorial decisions. He’s been known to ring prospective Gruen guests personally to see if they are willing to appear.

“It’s a matter of working out priorities and delegating,” he says. “I do have extremely good people that I’m working with which makes it possible to be able to be engaged but in the moments where I’m most useful, not in everything.”

*Read the full profile at The Power Index

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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