Veteran broadcasting and TV distribution executive Marena Manzoufas is being remembered as a smart and adventurous woman who made an immense contribution to Australian TV.
A founding member of Bruce Gyngell’s executive team at SBS in 1980, Manzoufas died on Friday from brain cancer, aged 68.
At SBS she set up the subtitling unit, recalling: “The discussion that the fifth channel in Sydney and Melbourne should be a multicultural service, accessible to the community at large, and not an ethnic television service accessible only to particular language speakers at particular times, led directly to the need to establish a subtitling capacity, a quite new and unique venture in Australian television.
“When the unit was established, there was virtually no existing expertise in Australia, no trained personnel and certainly no body of knowledge or experience on which to draw.”
She served as deputy program director at SBS until 1989 before joining the ABC as head of acquisitions and ABC International, where she played a key role in taking Bananas in Pyjamas to the world stage.
In 1995 she joined the Beyond group as general manager of Beyond Distribution, taking over from Chris Gunn.
“Marena pushed the company to become a major force in international scripted series by working with our production partners on programs such as Fire, Halifax f.p., Stingers, Something In The Air, Medivac and Good Guys, Bad Guys,” Beyond MD Mikael Borglund tells IF.
“She also built the international factual area of the business with Beyond 2000 along with a number of long running factual series such as Taboo, Deadly Women and Mythbusters.
“Marena also expanded the Beyond offices in the UK and US during her tenure. She was a great leader and manager who loved the television business and the people she worked with.”
In 2001 she was appointed head of TV programming at the ABC, succeeding Hugh McGowan, a post she held until her retirement in 2010.
Michael Carrington, ABC acting director entertainment and specialist, tells IF: “Marena was an invaluable part of the ABC over many years and a leading advocate for the importance of public broadcasting, who I was fortunate to work with from the other side of the world while I was at the BBC.
“As ABC head of programming she was integral to the television viewing habits of our audiences, helping determine what Australians would watch and when.
“She spearheaded our television output and oversaw long-term strategy for ABC1 and ABC2, including acquisitions of domestic and international programs.
“The role was the culmination of a lifelong commitment to public broadcasting, diversity and equality.”
ABC channel manager Natalie Edgar said: “She was an absolute powerhouse at a time when all the free-to-air channels were run by men. She spearheaded the output of the main channel; Spicks and Specks came from an idea she had about wanting to do a musical quiz show. She was not only really good at her job, she was someone you learnt so much from just by being around.”
Sticky Pictures CEO Donna Andrews posted on social media: “What an incredible woman. Intelligent, adventurous, beautiful inside and out. A friend first through work, and then in life. Gone too soon.”
Dr Anne Summers said: “A woman of style and verve whose ingenuity in transforming Australian television programming deserves wider recognition and applause. “
In a joint statement, NIDA CEO Jennifer Bott and Sue Walpole, a former Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, said Manzoufas made an immense contribution to the world of television, adding: “Along with her stellar contribution to Australia’s television culture, Marena leaves a strong group of devoted friends and her ‘adopted’ family, the Walpoles, behind.”