In a new Mediaweek podcast, executive producer Mark Llewellyn talked to Mediaweek about his latest ratings success, the 2021 series of Spotlight specials screening on Sunday nights on Seven.
With a nod to the number of times Llewellyn has made headlines, he said it was ok to refer to him as an “infamous” executive producer.
In a long, and at times controversial, career in journalism, Llewellyn has worked twice for both Nine and Seven. Along the way working on A Current Affair, 60 Minutes, briefly running news and current affairs at Nine and launching the successful Sunday Night at Seven.
The official name of his latest program is 7News Spotlight Presents, with Llewellyn explaining that name gives him licence to present a broad range of topics.
“The excitement of journalism is that you can cover virtually anything. You can go from a war zone to the local races, you can talk about real estate prices in Sydney or cover how people are feeling about mental health.
“That is the beauty of being a person who tells stories. With a program like this, apart from the need to tell stories that rate, you are not restricted on where you go or how you tell those stories.”
Llewellyn has achieved success this year without a big production staff. “The new mantra in television is to do more with less. That’s a terrible mantra and I would like to try and discourage it. Nobody ever erected a statue to an accountant.
“What that does to for our small team is that if we are prepared to work hard and be nimble and flexible enough you can go and be a bit different. We don’t have any other choice and we don’t have the shackles of the heritage we have lived with.”
Lewellyn credited former Seven CEO David Leckie with funding Sunday Night which Lewellyn led with great success when it launched at Seven. This time around Lewellyn says Spotlight is operating with the support of Seven’s head of news and current affairs Craig McPherson and director of network programming Angus Ross.
“Their brief to us is to rate,” explained Llewellyn. “But more than that they have a desire to present programming that satisfies them as journalists and program makers.” The Spotlight team is free to cover anything, the only restriction is the budget. “We don’t have the tanks and armoury of 60 Minutes or rows of producers lining up each day to make phone calls. We are like a guerrilla TV team having a crack.”
Lewellyn spoke frankly about the episode of Spotlight so far this series that created the most noise – the episode that featured Craig McLachlan. “Craig was sceptical about being approached for the story and how we would tell the story. We had to build a relationship. On Christmas Eve last year I went to his place to talk with him. I was there just post New Year’s Day doing the same thing without any guarantee he would agree to the story. It took a while to win his confidence.”
Seven was also keen to explain to McLachlan there would not be any no-go areas. “We wanted to ask some tough questions.”
The most controversial part of the McLachlan episode was perhaps the outtakes from the ABC interviews with women who made claims about McLachlan’s behaviour.
When asked how he got the tapes, Mark Llewellyn told Mediaweek about the time he was “boned” from Nine after a controversial affidavit was leaked and how he was incorrectly thought of as the leaker.
“The suspects in this case are not the people [you may think did it]. But I cannot go further than that. For me the tapes were significant because in a story as contentious as this one, the discovery of what appeared to be deliberate coaching, was significant. The way I used them was not to colour the intro or the outro, it was presented as part of the story and the impact it would have on it.”
Lewellyn noted after discovering the tapes, he was “surprised by what I found”. The TV producer explained his journalism training ground was the ABC and he remains a supporter of the organisation and the work it does. “It is a tremendous service.”
Lewellyn also spoke about McLachlan’s chances of rebuilding his career and the role his partner Vanessa has played in his story.
Listen to Mark Llewellyn’s podcast here.
Also available on Apple Podcasts and all major podcast platforms.