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“We had a great working relationship”

Theirs was one of TV’s great producing partnerships of the early 2000s.

when former 60 minutes and good morning australia producer Anita Jacoby teamed with gifted producer/presenter Andrew Denton at Zapruder’s Other Films, they executive produced some of the nation’s most ground-breaking programmes: from the revered Enough Rope to Gruenand talent hothouse Hungry Beast.

In her new book, Secrets Beyond the ScreenJacoby recalled their early success.

“We hit it off. Andrew greatly respects certain journalists and because I’d come from 60 minutes working with his partner, Jennifer Byrne, I had a good pedigree. It felt like I had his respect for him from day one. Andrew is not a journalist, so once he realizes you know what you’re doing, he empowers you to do it,” she wrote.

“The great thing about him is there’s not a chauvinistic bone in his body. He’s not your blokey bloke, he takes people as he finds them and once you’ve proven what you can do, you’re off and running. We had a great working relationship from the get-go.

“Andrew was thoughtful and very quick-witted. He saw the program as an opportunity to show a more serious side. Before then, people had viewed him as a master of clever humor-driven shows; think of the ABC’s Blah Blah Blah, notable for launching the careers of many Australian performers and live and sweaty, a weekly sports program which was a part-talk part-comedy show, also on the ABC. This new program was to be something quite different. It was a chance to hone the interviewing skills he developed on radio at Triple M and the Seven Network in his earlier years.”

Noting they enjoyed a “great professional relationship” for 11 years, the two produced shows mostly for ABC and 10 including Elders, David Tench Tonight, Can of Worms, Country Town Rescue plus Nine’s AFP: Australian Federal Police.

Jacob’s producing experience and Denton’s interviewing finesse was lightning in a bottle, with Enough Rope churning out compelling long-form conversations including Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Bill Clinton, Sir David Attenborough, Isabel Allende, Helen Thomas (the longest serving member of the White House press), Jerry Seinfeld, John Travolta, Alan Bond and Bob Hawke. It was must-see TV and ABC ratings reflected it.

But sometimes the two did not see eye to eye, “….great comedians and satirists often have a darker side to them. Andrew has talked publicly about the anger he grew up with, courtesy of his father, author Kit Denton. I was sometimes on the receiving end of that anger. If he went too far for my comfort he would usually apologize – but not always,” Jacoby writes.

By 2012 Denton decided to merge Zapruders with Cordell Jigsaw with Jacoby -who was managing director- set to continue.

But when the merger morphed into a sale, Jacoby felt her position would be “relegated down the food chain.”

At the time Jacoby stated she was departing the company for health and family reasons, but in her book offers further insight.

“My head, and my heart, told me I couldn’t continue to work in the combined operation. The next day I walked into the office and announced I was leaving, which led to a major falling out with Andrew. He wanted out and I was to be the key continuity person with the corporate memory, the one to ensure the Zapruder culture remained alive and strong under the new ownership structure. I don’t think Andrew appreciated how the change from merger to acquisition would impact my role,” she writes.

“In hindsight, I think I did the right thing for myself and for my husband, John. It was not the way I wanted to finish working with Andrew, after so many happy and fulfilling years together. But as my father’s experiences had shown me, life does not always treat you fairly.”

By 2013 Jacoby was headhunted to run ITV Studios Australia which she ran for a two year period, selling TheChase to Seven and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here to 10, until the head of ITV Studios International moved roles and her time came to an end.

For the past eight years, Jacoby has been an Associate Member of the Australian Communications and Media Authority and is Chair of the ABC’s Advisory Council. A Jacoby-Walkley Scholarship also offers a three-month paid journalism internship with Nine.

Secrets Beyond the Screen published by Ventura| RRP $32.99 is out now.

Images: Anita Jacoby, Mumbrella.

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