A whispering campaign is under way again against some of the
Nine network’s longest and most established stars. Ray Martin, Jim Waley and Steve Liebmann all were the subject of
gossip column items, mentions or hints in the weekend press in Sydney.

There were suggestions that Peter Overton, former news
sports jock and currently a reporter on ‘tick tick tick’, was heading for the
slot to replace Jim Waley. But then he
could also be replacing Ray Martin. And
Steve Liebmann was said to be on a short life with a suggestion that Tony
Squires of the Seven Network had been chatted to by a senior Nine person.

Squires has confirmed that but also pointed out he has two
and a half years of his contract to go.

Ray Martin’s contract is up at the end of 2005, and Jim
Waley is reportedly in a similar situation, making replacement now expensive.

But towards the end of this year when there’s just over 12
months to go, it can look a little cheaper and a more realistic option for Nine
management that’s so far bereft of new ideas to stop the ratings slide for A
Current Affair
and the National Nine News in Sydney.

Watch for the whispers to grow as the year
passes by – and remember that the denials don’t count. After all Nine said it was rock solid behind
Mike Munro, before he was replaced with Ray Martin at the start of 2003. And Munro remains in place doing This is
Your Life
and occasional items on ‘tick tick tick’. And being paid $900,000 a year!
And, also remember that Mike Munro’s ratings were a lot better than Ray Martin’s are today and Today Tonight on Seven wasn’t regularly beating the
daylights out of them, as has happened over the past three weeks.

Meanwhile,
the mentions of the Packer politics of the last
week on Business Sunday were, well just, well mentions. No discussion.
But of course there’d be no discussing the implications of the
latest changes in the boardroom at Park Street and what they meant for
the
Packer empire, if they meant anything at all.

Finance Editor, Ross Greenwood stayed right away from that
one on Business Sunday, preferring to look at possible media ownership changes
after Macquarie Bank moved to try and take over Reg Grundy’s radio empire. But in the process, he forgot about those
pesky cross media laws which would prevent Macquarie from being anything but a
radio operator, at the moment.

Greenwood’s reticence on things Packer and PBL was
understandable seeing he was an appointee of the new CEO, John Alexander.

But one person who hoed right into a comment piece, as to be
expected, was former Nine finance editor and now commentator on Sunday Sunrise,
Michael Pascoe.

Here’s a transcript of his piece on Sunday Sunrise of this
week: http://seven.com.au/sundaysunrise/finance_040613_pascoe.
It’s a good read, everything that a comment piece should be. And we particularly like these words on John
Alexander:

“Alexander’s greatest talent has been ingratiating himself
with Kerry Packer. Whereas previous
senior executives had justified some of their salaries by saying ‘Yes, Kerry,
but…’ Alexander was more likely to finish Kerry’s sentences for him.

“The best way to endear yourself with Packer though is to
make him lots of money – and Alexander did that at ACP by sharply cutting
costs. All his prior experience had
been in print.

“When Alexander was let loose on 9, it proved not to be so
easy. He arrived there amid promises of
taking out $30 million – but it never happened and that promise quietly faded
away.

“Oh he sacked people, including me, but that was in pursuit
of other agenda, not cost cutting…”

If you haven’t been given the boot by your network, you’ll
know remembering birthdays and then marking them with a good lunch is one of
the way TV managements duchess their on air stars and key off air people. And there was none better than Nine under
David Leckie and Peter Meakin.

So it’s good to hear that the old team hasn’t lost its skills
in this area now they are at the Seven Network, for picking up the bill for a
birthday lunch for an established Nine star.

Crikey hears that about three weeks ago the Today show’s
Tracey Grimshaw had her birthday lunch. In years gone by it was paid for by
Nine management, with even last year’s effort being a good slap up nosh paid
for by Willoughby.

But how times and ratings change the talents of an inexperienced
management like that now running Nine, especially that prince of Human
Resources, John Alexander.

Tracey, correctly divining that Nine had no interest this
year, went to lunch with a gang of friends, including an old Nine person, and
now Seven person, Helen Biven. She’s the PA to Peter Meakin, who showed up
during the lunch, stayed to enjoy himself, and paid for Tracey’s birthday bash.

Class a plenty as one lunching Nine staffer said.

Peter Fray

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