Murdoch, Fennessy bros. shingle to Shine

Production company wants to expand to film in two years

SYDNEY -- Elisabeth Murdoch on Monday launched the latest addition to her expanding production shingle, as Shine Australia officially opened its doors for business down under with an ambitious potential slate of projects.

The new company, headed up by former Fremantle Media Australia execs, siblings Mark and Carl Fennessy, announced its first commission -- a local adaptation of long-running French format, “Letters And Numbers” (known as “Countdown” in the U.K.), which multicultural broadcaster SBS will strip weeknights from June.

Murdoch said that Fennessy’s “super sizing” of the Shine-owned “Masterchef” format here last year, which became the top-rated non-sport program on Australian television, convinced her that “they were the only people I’d want to move into partnership with.”

“Australia, being the family home, is a market I don’t take lightly,” she added.

Indeed the success of “Masterchef Australia” and its parent in the U.K. has led to commissions in a number of other key markets. Masterchef Australia executive producer Paul Franklin is consulting to Shine’s upcoming local productions of the format in Norway, France and for Fox in the U.S.

Mark Fennessy also confirmed that Shine will make “Junior Masterchef” for Network Ten in the fourth quarter of 2010, and will take over production of “Masterchef Australia” after production of the next two series, continuing under Fremantle Media Australia.

“The Biggest Loser Australia” will also revert to Shine after the current season and the company is also hoping to get a commission for its Swedish game show “A Minute To Win It."

In addition Fennessy last week signed an exclusive output deal with U.K. company RDF Rights, under which it will represent the RDF Rights catalogue in Australia. That includes shows currently on air such as “Ladette To Lady” and “The Secret Millionaire."

But while the trio are looking at sealing deals for Shine formats and entertainment programs to local broadcasters in the short term, it's also eyeing scripted program development.

Carl Fennessy told THR the company is talking to Screen Australia and other partners about accessing the producer offset and other funding for scripted fare, and wants to step into feature film production within two years.

Murdoch said that with current global financing models and Shine’s network it makes sense for the company to look at co-productions. At the same time they want the Shine network to exploit home-grown formats to the rest of the world.

"We don’t want to be the biggest on the block but we want to make the best shows with exceptional people,” Mark Fennessy said.