Gary Fenton, a former senior executive at the Seven and Nine networks, has died.

He was a programming director at HSV7, Melbourne as far back as 1976. In 1988, when still in the programming role, he told The Herald newspaper: “It’s treading a fine line trying to come up with a schedule, and programs within that schedule, that will attract a sufficient audience. At the same time, we must be mindful of the (Australian Broadcasting Tribunal) requirements, the commercial realities of the business and a corporate and company philosophy. Nobody ever wants to become a programmer. If anyone comes to me and says, ‘I want to be a programmer’, I always say, ‘You’ve just failed the first test. Nobody in his right mind would want to be a programmer’.”

He was later promoted to Head of Sport for the Seven Network, where he played a crucial role in Seven securing broadcast rights for multiple Olympic Games. He was also Chief Operating Officer for the Sydney Olympic Broadcasting Organisation.

In a statement issued today, Lewis Martin, Managing Director of Seven Melbourne and Head of Sport for the Seven Network, said:  “Born and bred in Melbourne and totally consumed by all sport on offer in this great city, Gary Fenton made a profound contribution to international sport and the global broadcasting of sport at the highest level. When commissioning television drama series, sketch comedy or footy theme songs, his instincts guaranteed success and touched the hearts of audiences everywhere. Gary leaves behind a legendary career and a legion of friends and colleagues around the world who respected his judgement and thoroughly enjoyed his company. Gary loved and cherished his family as much as they loved and cherished him. They are all in our thoughts today. Vale.

Bruce McAvaney OAM said: “Gary Fenton had a profound effect and influence on a legion of people in the television industry and I’m one of them. He brought me back to Channel 7 in 1989 and his guidance was crucial to the way I worked. He re-shaped the way the International Olympic Committee negotiated media rights and he should be lauded as the driving force behind the worldwide television coverage of the Olympic Games in our country, in Sydney 2000.”

Former Seven producer Gordon Bennett OAM said: “Today I lost not just a colleague but, more importantly, a friend of over 43 years. Gary was the best friend and colleague I could ever wish to work with and our years together at Seven Network Sport have given me a wealth of memorable experiences. The enormity and scope of Gary’s contribution to the Australian television industry, in both the entertainment and sporting fields, cannot be overstated. He was a driving force in Seven’s AFL coverage through the 1980s and 1990s. Working with Gary on Olympic Games and other major sporting events at home and around the world, I believe we set new standards for how these events could be presented for Seven viewers. His knowledge and ‘smarts’ engendered the utmost respect by sport and television industry leaders worldwide. His achievements are unlikely to be matched in the future. Gary will be greatly missed by all who knew and understood him.”

Fenton was also director of sport at the Nine Network from 2003 to 2007, and then worked for the network in a consulting capacity.

Source: Seven West Media, The Age, Perth Now. The Herald, 28 March 1988.

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