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Jun 10, 2004

David Gyngell reaches the pinnacle at Nine

Crikey's TV insider, Chanel No.9, looks at David Gyngell, the new CEO of the Nine Network.


Crikey’s TV insider, Chanel No.9, looks at David Gyngell, the new CEO of the Nine Network.
Ok, Nine’s ahead in the overall ratings, but being battered like a sav
in the 6pm to 7pm slot in Sydney. ACA is fading fast at 6.30pm,
nationally and in Sydney. It’s tough times despite the best attempts
of the Sydney and Melbourne business media to paint an
unflattering picture in their analysis of the changes at PBL.

But what do you reckon will be the big decision out at Willoughby at Nine’s HQ?

Fixing the holes in the ratings? Finding some new young on-air talent?
Or sorting out the mess in news and current affairs left behind by the
departing John Alexander?

No, its going to be the future of the big office on the third floor of
Willoughby, in the south-western corner of the building and just when
it can be occupied, and will another redecoration be needed to remove the
austere, almost minimalist feel that was created by John Alexander
during his two and a half years there.

Oh, who’s wondering about that Office? Why the new CEO, David Gyngell.
At the moment he’s got a pokey little office on the third floor, but
the big one, the one occupied by David Leckie and then Alexander,
beckons. Occupation of it will signal he has arrived at the pinnacle in
Australian media. Running the nation’s number one TV Network for the
Packers, just like his father, the legendary Bruce Gyngell.

The two, father and son couldn’t be more different. Bruce – at times a
vain, almost peacockish man – but with a wonderful understanding of why
people watched TV and what was possible in terms of TV talent and
content. Better in many ways than Sam Chisholm, the man who guided Nine
for more than a decade after winning a ratings battle with a
Gyngell-inspired Seven Network.

David, his son, a successful businessman in his own right, Eastern
Suburbs Rugby League stalwart, just like the Packers. Two years in the
job as CEO and about a year or so before that learning sales. He’s
wealthy from his own time running surf shops.

Not a man to take a backward step, as David Leckie found at the recent
screenings of new season shows in Los Angeles. According to industry
gossip, which reach the public via the TV pages of the Daily Telegraph
Wednesday, Leckie and Gyngell had a fairly robust discussion about
their network’s respective positions in the ratings.

By all accounts Gyngell finished the stronger with the last word. But
Leckie is no doubt grinning at the moment as Seven’s Today Tonight and
the News have rushed past Nine’s in Sydney, and been much stronger
nationally. Suddenly Nine is looking a little cornered and Seven is on
the frontfoot

Now Gyngell moves up a notch, Responsibility is his, subject to the Packer calls and monstering.

But having Kerry Packer as Godfather (and not in the Sopranos terms)
will temper the criticisms. It’s going to be as tough as his father
found in TV. Bruce Gyngell was famously the first man on Australian TV
back in 1956 on Channel Nine and got used to Sir Frank Packer’s

Now it’s his son, who should be used to Kerry Packer’s eccentricities,
given the long association with the family. One of those traits is not
hesitating to challenge or second guess his executives at Nine, as
people like David Leckie, Sam Chisholm, Peter Meakin, John Stephens and
others have found over the years. After all it’s the one medium that
Kerry Packer has mastered and where he is intuitive, just like Bruce

The famed Park Street phone call, many of them on Monday morning after
the ratings for the week before have been released, or even Sunday
nights when he saw something on 60 Minutes he didn’t like, or during a
cricket or rugby league telecast. Sports directors such as David Hill
and Gary Burns were the recipients of those calls.

And the women on Nine reception desk and switchboard were often the
first to see the call, at any time of day or night. From Park Street,
Bellevue Hill or elsewhere. Ring ring, “Yes Mr Packer, he’s at home,
I’ll connect you, or in a meeting, I’ll give you to his assistant.”

David Gyngell has a repair job to do at Nine. He has to fix up the mess
made by himself, John Alexander and Jim Rudder, their news and current
affairs director, in the most important timeslot in TV, in the most
important market in the country, in the most powerful part of the Nine
empire, its news and current affairs operations.

At the moment is in some disarray in Sydney where there have been big
changes in talent and style. Brisbane and Melbourne are working
well, meaning it has proven harder to change personnel. In fact
if it hadn’t been for the performance by the Melbourne and Brisbane
news operations, the lead Nine has in the news nationally and in the
overall ratings, would have been much smaller.

That Nine has been taken by surprise by Seven’s resurgence in the
timeslot is evidenced by this week’s move to put Who Wants to be
a Millionaire in the 5.30pm slot up against Seven’s successful
Deal or No
Deal to try and win back a lead-in audience for the news. Shifting The
Price is Right to 5pm and increasing its prizes makes that hour now the
‘greed’ slot on TV.

It was a ‘throw money at the problem’ solution that has been festering
for several weeks before sweeping up and taking Nine by surprise. It
will have an impact, but if it starts diluting the drawing power of
Millionaire on Monday nights, then the short term fix may prove to have
lasting damage to another, key part of the Nine schedule.

It’s tough being at the top. All these decisions, all these conflicts.
What’s more important, protecting news and ACA, or Millionaire later on
Monday nights? Where’s the best return? And how to pay for the costs of
Eddie extra and a cashed up Price is Right when we have an $8 million
hole in news and current affairs and lifestyle programmes?

Decisions, decisions, decisions. What to do?

But with money rolling in from the biggest boom in TV advertising since
the introduction of colour TV back in 1975, a lot of mistakes can be
covered up and paid for.

And finally a bit of a chuckle around Nine again about the now famous
‘nepotism’ memo from John Alexander back in late 2002 after an event in
the Melbourne newsroom. Nepotism, Nine staff were warned, was to be
avoided. Relatives had to go through the normal checks, tests and
interview procedures as everyone else did in applying for a job. There
were to be no favourites.

Well, James Packer remains chairman of PBL. Thanks Dad, and David.
Gyngell is now head of Nine, thanks Goddad. Like many other things at
Packerdom, there’s one law for them and another completely different
set for outsiders and ordinary employees.


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