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Creatives Speaking: John Stainton on Steve Irwin and passing the baton to Bindi

John Stainton developed and executive produced the Steve Irwin wildlife series including smash hits The Crocodile Hunter and Crikey! What an Adventure. Having worked closely with Irwin for a number of years, Stainton is now managing his daughter, Bindi, whose fledgling TV career he is helping get underway. Stainton runs Brisbane-based producer The Best Picture Show Company.

Why were Steve Irwin’s series so popular?
He really was a larger than life personality. He had a raw energy but also an incredible enthusiasm for, and knowledge about, wildlife. If you look at TV you see most things are recycled and interchangeable. You have a choice of a clone of a clone. That allowed someone who is different to really strike out.

When did you realise Steve’s shows were going to be so big?
I knew in 1992 that Steve would be huge and knew his shows would get to where they are today from the day that we started. We went on air in 1992 and in 1996 in the US. Steve just jumped out and no-one had done wildlife like he did. It started a whole new trend, he cloned a whole new range of hosts.

What level of creative control did you have with those shows?
Steve gave me the confidence not to be pushed around by anyone. Since 1992 we had absolute 100% control and we still do [with the Bindi shows]. There were people at the networks that wanted to change the name Crocodile Hunter, but I fought for that as I thought that was the brand that would take us through the next 10-to-15 years.

Were those shows made for an international audience?
We made the programmes to appeal internationally but we didn’t change the language. The brand’s very important; Steve had to be in khakis for everything and there were a lot of stock, standard phrases.

What are you working on with Steve’s daughter Bindi?
We’ve just completed Bindi the Jungle Girl. That’s gone through the roof in Australia on ABC. It’s on Discovery Kids in the US and harder to find because it’s a digital net. But there could be a repeat of what Steve did on Animal Planet. When he started on Animal Planet there were a few hundred thousand subscribers and that grew to something like 85 million – probably 80 million of those were down to Steve.

Will Bindi be as big a TV personality as Steve?
I said to Steve that Bindi will be ten times bigger. She has every bit of the talent he had and wants to do what her dad did and follow in his footsteps. And she has the ability to sing and dance. She’s such a personable kid and a great role model. We’ll do a second series of Bindi the Jungle Girl. Then the big push will be a wildlife musical movie.