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ABC aims for AM glory days after Trioli reversal

A sudden backflip has upended the pieces on the ABC’s current affairs chess board. But most have welcomed political head Chris Uhlmann taking over AM after Virginia Trioli withdrew.

The ABC is hoping the appointment of former 7.30 political editor Chris Uhlmann to host AM will sharpen up the morning radio program and restore it to its agenda-setting glory days.

In a shock reversal yesterday, the ABC announced current ABC News Breakfast co-host Virginia Trioli will not replace Tony Eastley as AM host, as had been announced with much fanfare only 10 days earlier. Trioli, who was planning to move from Melbourne to Sydney for the new role, will remain on television as co-host of News Breakfast. Trioli is married to ABC fact-check editor Russell Skelton, who works mostly out of Sydney, and has a son aged under two.

The ABC says Trioli changed her mind due to private family reasons.

While Trioli’s decision could have been a major blow for AM — heard by around a million listeners a day on almost 60 ABC stations — ABC sources say Uhlmann is viewed as a more-than-worthy replacement within the broadcaster. Uhlmann will host the show out of Canberra and, in a departure from current practice, will conduct the big political interviews.

AM’s heyday was 10 years ago when what politicians said on the show set the agenda for the whole day,” a senior ABC source said. “It’s time for it to be freshened up.”

There is a view within the ABC that AM has ceded influence in recent years to Fran Kelly’s Radio National Breakfast, which has a smaller audience but can react more quickly to breaking news. AM, meanwhile, has been locked into a more rigid format, with most big political interviews conducted by ABC Radio’s chief political correspondent.

One ABC mole expressed concern that the political correspondent role could be “emasculated” if Uhlmann conducted the big political interviews.

There are also concerns about Uhlmann hosting the show from Canberra while veteran executive producer David Burgess and most of the production team are based in Sydney. As an insider characterised it: “It is complete madness. It’s the golden rule: you don’t have your EP separate from the host. But there was a hole to fill after the fuck-up with Trioli.”

Asked about the split presenter-EP arrangement, ABC current affairs boss Bruce Belsham told Crikey: “It’s a bit new for us but it’s something we believe we can make work … We have much more sophisticated communications technology than we did in the past.”

The move appears to scotch speculation that Uhlmann had stepped down from 7.30 to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest given his wife is rising Labor MP Gai Brodtmann, currently the shadow parliamentary secretary for defence. Uhlmann was making a documentary on the Rudd-Gillard years for ABC TV; Belsham says he’ll step away from the project but it will still go ahead.

Former foreign correspondent Tony Eastley, who hosted AM for 10 years, is moving to ABC News 24 as a senior presenter.

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  • 1
    paddy
    Posted Friday, 24 January 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    ABC sources say Uhlmann is viewed as a more-than-worthy replacement within the broadcaster.

    On what planet are these ABC sources living?
    I know they’ve probably been caught in an awkward situation with Trioli pulling out on such short notice.
    But Chris Uhlmann as the AM host? Really?

    He was an utter train wreck as 7.30’s political editor.
    Dog knows what he’ll do to AM’s credibility.

    Hopefully this will be a short term solution and “Our ABC”
    can find a credible replacement.

    (I’d love to see Ellen Fanning get the gig. She’s currently doing a fill in on ABC classic FM. But I don’t know if she’d fancy the early starts.)

  • 2
    zut alors
    Posted Friday, 24 January 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Uhlmann!

    The only possible explanation is that ABC management gave him the gig as a dare. But it’s hardly an excuse.

  • 3
    aliso6
    Posted Friday, 24 January 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    No more AM for me. Uhlmann is to the ABC a disast

  • 4
    aliso6
    Posted Friday, 24 January 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    rous political commentator!

  • 5
    CML
    Posted Friday, 24 January 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Can’t work out if Uhlmann just tries to compensate for the fact that his wife is a Labor MP, or whether he really is a fair dinkum ultra conservative. If it is the latter, then it should make for interesting conversation in the Uhlmann/Brodtmann household. If the former, then he should stick to a ‘balanced’ (factual?) presentation of the program.
    My guess is that we should get ready for more fawning over all LNP pollies who front AM. Very sad.

  • 6
    rhonaj
    Posted Friday, 24 January 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Have to agree with Paddy.

  • 7
    AR
    Posted Friday, 24 January 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Mad Eyes” Uhlmann is the lightweight’s lightweight, I cannot recall an interesting question nor a half sentient follow-up from his years hogging 7.30(Report as was).
    He is the perfect example of the Peter Principle.

  • 8
    BSA Bob
    Posted Friday, 24 January 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I have to agree with other commentators here. I have doubts as to whether Chris Uhlmann would make a successful transition to radio. Those eyes that light up, the sheer delight that visibly radiates from him whenever he can find something negative to say about Labor, which is most of the time. How can this be conveyed via the new medium?

  • 9
    geomac62
    Posted Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I go along with CML .

  • 10
    Joe Fitzpatrick
    Posted Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    I’m a lefty, but the news that Uhlmann is married to a Labor MP bothers me a lot.

    Right wing accusations of perceived bias in the ABC strike me as pretty much unfounded (though I guess as a lefty I’d say that anyway). In the end, the right has its fair share of loud-mouth shouters.

    Uhlmann has a massive conflict of interest. He shouldn’t be reporting on politics whilst his wife is involved in it. I’m surprised the ABC let this happen.

  • 11
    Sir Dick
    Posted Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I am a conservative, my prime sources of national news are The Australian every day, ABC TV News and 7:30 every night and the Saturday SMH. I have just subscribed to Crikey.

    I happen to think that Chris Uhlmann and Leigh Sales are two of the best television interviewers and journalists in Australia.

    I welcome the idea of Chris Uhlmann fronting AM because he is one of the very few ABC presenters who seem capable of articulating both left/green as well as conservative positions with any sense of neutrality. To whom he is married is of no consequence to me - it is all about the professional manner with which he conducts himself and in this respect he is very good.

    And I am eternally grateful to Leigh Sales of ABC 7:30 that she is persistently balanced (with respect to left and right of politics) in her reporting and her interviewing.
    Leigh recently interviewed a “senior member of the Indonesian parliament” about our “stop the boats” policy. This followed on from a disgraceful piece in the ABC News about Australian sailors torturing boat people. Leigh led off with all the questions a leftie would put and then, with equal intensity, she started asking the questions a conservative would ask. What a contrast to the likes of Barry Cassidy, Tony Jones and Kerry O’Brien (in his old role) who, as capable as they are, always seem to convey their approval of left/green positions and their disapproval of anything conservative.

    Leigh and Chris represent how it should be with “our” ABC.

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