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“Had I been on the panel today … I don’t think I’d be asked back”

Gruen's Dee Madigan recalls her "terrible" first episode, a very long 12 seasons ago.

Dee Madigan remembers making an impression when she appeared on the very first episode of Gruen way back in 2008.

“I said the word w*nk on TV,” she admits.

“I was so awful. I was terrible. Had I been on the panel today where the standard is much higher, I don’t think I’d be asked back. But I think that was probably enough for them to think ‘There might be something in this.'”

Twelve years later she is an indelible part of the Gruen team, and a success story in an advertising industry where men have dominated for so long.

It was Zapruder’s Other Film producers Andrew Denton, Jon Casimir & Anita Jacoby who invited Madigan to try out for their Gruen Transfer panel discussing advertising on the ABC -an oxymoron to begin with.

“My boss at the time, was auditioning, and they needed someone just to do the Pitch segment for the pilot episode,” she recalls.

“I tried to memorise what was going to say”

“I was either pregnant or had just given birth. I was terrible. I tried to memorise what was going to say, which is actually a terrible way to do TV.

“I looked terrible too. I insisted on my fringe being dead straight while the rest of my hair was curlier. So I look back and think ‘What was I thinking?'”

In its early years Madigan was often the sole female on the show alongside Wil Anderson, Todd Sampson and Russel Howcroft. Now the rotating guests are regularly female, including Karen Ferry & Christina Aventi, but Madigan says the show has always had females behind the camera including (formerly) Anita Jacoby and executive producer Polly Connolly.

For 6 years Madigan has been Executive Creative Director of her own ad agency Campaign Edge, with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane & Darwin. Succeeding in an industry of cowboys and suits is not something she takes for granted, having made the switch from teaching.

“The creative departments would have been 3 women and probably 15 blokes. That was not uncommon and no creative directors were female in the industry. In fact, I’ve never had a female creative director.

“I was good at what I did, but as a female, you tend to get, the tampon ads.

“The ad industry is a pretty gross place”

“When you have children, the ad industry is a pretty gross place. It doesn’t like older people or older women. I saw too many women take time off to have children and just freelance from home. The danger is there’s enough work to do that for a while. So you fall into a false sense of security, thinking you will make a good living and be at home. But eventually that work dries up. I was just determined that wasn’t going to be me. I wanted to start a business so that I will be in control of getting work.”

The TV exposure has been helpful to business.

“Clients come to you because they’re seeing you on TV. It is still bizarre that somehow, because you’re on TV, you know more than someone who isn’t. But you know what, sometimes if an opportunity comes, you just take it. The blokes do it all the time anyway.”

She has also been a regular on The Latest, featured on The Project, A Current Affair and SKY News, including an infamous stoush with Bronwyn Bishop.

“The list of people who I refused to go on with in the end, just got longer and longer. Eventually, about a year and a half ago, I just decided there’s actually not enough money on earth to make me spend my Sunday nights doing that.”

Long produced by CJZ, this season’s Gruen will face COVID protocols, including no audience, a socially-distanced desk, no Pitch segment in person and Russel Howcroft appearing via screen from his home in Melbourne. Madigan is confident the panel will rise to the occasion of missing a studio audience and recognises her role within the Todd – Russel debates.

“You do have to be prepared to speak up, because they’re such big personalities”

“You do have to be prepared to speak up, because they’re such big personalities and you can end up sitting there like a wallflower,” she observes.

“Sometimes I will agree with one and sometimes the other. I’ll often have people say, ‘That Russel, he’s a terrible person!’ But he’s actually amazing. He’s done so much for the ad industry. He’s so passionate about it. I just admire him massively and he’s just such a lovely person.

“I think also the difference is that I am a practitioner, I guess. Whereas Todd is a planner and Russel is a suit.

“I’m the person who actually writes the ads so each of us has a different viewpoint and experience that we can bring to the conversation.”

Gruen returns 8:30pm Wednesday on ABC.

7 Responses

  1. Love Dee! One of my favs. It’s interesting that she thought she did so poorly on the first episode. From an external perspective, I thought she was great! But we tend to be harsher on ourselves, I know I am. Also saying w*nk on TV just makes you more human in my books haha.

    Very interesting to get her perspective on the industry as well.

  2. Thanks for putting this interview together David, it was great. Dee has been essential to the fabric of Gruen, but since she’s not one of the Three, is often forgotten.

    Great post, well done.

  3. Such great insight. I appreciate the efforts you go to David, to get these interviews. Having been a Gruen fan since the beginning and despite my dislike of advertisements, I really enjoy their insight and balanced discussion. Especially when they’re not afraid to call put the dodgy advertising!

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