Head of drama Penny Win’s impending departure from Foxtel has raised concerns among the production community over the pay TV platform’s commitment to Australian drama.
Win has stepped down after nearly five years in the post and two years before that as SoHo channel manager and Foxtel Networks commissioning editor for drama.
She is still on the full-time staff but will transition to a consultant, initially on the final 20-episode season of Fremantle’s Wentworth, and beyond that potentially other drama projects.
Drama department executives Carly Heaton and Lana Greenhalgh will now report direct to director of content Ross Crowley.
Among the shows produced under her watch are Picnic at Hanging Rock, Secret City, A Place to Call Home, Fighting Season, Devil’s Playground, Deadline Gallipoli, The Kettering Incident and the upcoming Lambs of God.
Win tells IF: “I will continue in the consulting role to Foxtel as well as potentially expanding to other projects. I love what I do in the Australian drama space and the plan is to continue bringing those stories to the now many screens.”
However several producers are worried that Foxtel has not commissioned any new drama series since See-Saw Films’ The End, a 10-parter co-commissioned with Sky UK, and Lingo Pictures’ eight-part Upright, which stars Tim Minchin and Milly Alcock.
In addition, Foxtel and News Corp Australia announced they had co-commissioned an eight-part drama based on the notorious story of Lawyer X, the Melbourne-based criminal barrister who was a Victorian police informant from 1995 until 2009 during Melbourne’s gangland wars.
Lawyer X: The story of Informer 3838 is in development and is due to begin production later this year, although the production company has yet to be announced.
These producers believe Foxtel has called a temporary halt to drama commissions while it reviews its entire approach to the genre, particularly as few shows apart from Wentworth and A Place To Call Home have delivered significant audiences.
They fear Foxtel may reduce its investment in drama while it funnels billions of dollars into sports rights and SVOD service Kayo Sports.
It is clear that Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany and executive director of TV Brian Walsh are rethinking the kind of shows that work best, particularly on demand.
Executives are keen to find a long-running drama to replace A Place to Call Home and they believe both The End and Upright have the potential to be returning series.
They insist Foxtel’s commitment to drama has not lessened and that News Corp is part of a new model of financing drama, which could include a spin-off of Hedley Thomas’ popular true-crime podcast The Teacher’s Pet.
Win joined Foxtel in 2003, initially as group channel manager of Fox Classics and W, after serving as the programmer of New Zealand’s TV3 and TV4 and as program manager at Star TV’s Star Movies in Hong Kong.
Walsh paid tribute to Win, telling TV Tonight: “The achievements under Penny are impressive.
“Under her direction, Foxtel’s drama series have been recognised by the Australian creative community and industry professionals to great acclaim and won numerous accolades for achievement in excellence.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Penny for her enormous contribution and more broadly, for her invaluable participation in furthering the creation of unique Australian stories for television. Penny will continue to play a key role in Foxtel’s local production plans, specifically as our drama consultant on signature series Wentworth.”
Heaton has been executive in charge of drama production since last September after three years as drama development exec.
Greenhalgh joined Foxtel as Win’s personal assistant three years ago and has risen through the ranks as an executive assistant and scripted production coordinator to drama exec.