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Career Path

A starring role in TV

by Melinda Earsdon

TV Production – Programming, Steve Askew,
Executive vice president of programming, Star TV

The world of television has always had a reputation for being competitive, but is it really as hard to break into as everyone makes it out? Perhaps not if you are considering a role behind the scenes, says Steve Askew, executive vice president for programming at Star TV.

Most children do not really know what they want to be when they grow up. Not so for Mr Askew, who used to create television studios with building blocks when he was only eight years old. "I always had a passion for television as a medium," he explains. "What was interesting was that I never wanted to be a star. I always wanted to work behind the scenes."

It would be difficult to get much more behind the scenes than Mr Askew's first role in the industry. After leaving school he took a job sweeping the floors of the Seven Network Studios in Sydney. Through dedication and passion, he worked his way up through the ranks, moving first to the press department, then production and finally programming. He joined Star TV eight years ago and is now responsible for what people all over the region watch on television on the Star network. From movies to chat shows to sitcoms, Mr Askew decides what, when and where.

Today, his role does not simply encompass programming, however. As head of the network in Asia, Mr Askew is also responsible for financial and legal teams, network design, library operations and channel operations. "My role is regional, so what I do on a daily basis depends entirely on where I wake up," he laughs.

Mr Askew is responsible for all of Asia, from India to China, and has spent the last few years building up strong country teams who are responsible for programming in their local markets. When travelling, he spends his days either in the studio or in meetings to review storylines and schedules. When in Hong Kong, he does all of this for the local market and also communicates with Star offices worldwide. In addition, he meets with ratings analysts and even has to find time to sign the company cheques.


"The best part of my job is that I touch people's lives in a way that I could never hope to on an individual basis"

"I can honestly say there is never a day when I'm bored or have nothing to do," Mr Askew smiles. "You can always do more and there is always another concept to come up with. It is very rewarding. The best part of my job is that I touch people's lives in a way that I could never hope to on an individual basis."

But how difficult is the cut-throat world of television to break into? Well, while sweeping the floors to get ahead might seem a tad extreme, there is a great deal to be said about taking a low-level entry position in order to learn the industry from the bottom up. Academic achievements are no guarantee of success in the world of television programming. Mr Askew says, "To succeed, you need to be perceptive because you are choosing a product to suit a large audience. You need to be fair-minded, a team player, or in my case team leader, and you need to be passionate about what you do. You really can't fake that."

"At the end of the day, this job is a creative process where the best idea wins," he continues. "My door is always open to everyone from the tea lady to my executives. They are all welcome to pop in and tell me their ideas at any time. If I think one of those is worth looking into, then it could catapult that person to a new height."

Unlike many other industries, television seems to respond to economic turmoil in a positive way. Several stations are reporting an increase in year-on-year profits, primarily because people tend to stay in more when times are hard. And, while it is becoming more difficult to predict when the economy will turn, the industry remains a viable option for those who are keen to get ahead and willing to put the effort in. Who knows, you could be one of the lucky ones to come up with the idea for a ground-breaking new television show.

China Opportunities

At present, there are about 2,000 television channels in China and, while the government is trying to reduce that figure, there is still a world of opportunities available for executives looking to get ahead. As the economy grows, stations are always looking for new ways and ideas to improve the quality of the programmes they produce. Salaries in China are slightly lower than Hong Kong, but so are living costs, so a career move to the mainland is a feasible option in terms of getting ahead.


 

Taken from Career Times 20 June 2003, p. 22

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