Rudderless at Nine

Subscriber email – 1 July

More changes at the Nine Network with news and current affairs director
Jim Rudder leaving on Wednesday night after around a year in the job, a move
predicted by Crikey last week – Kerry’s the one, Gyngell’s The Apprentice.

This is CEO David Gyngell’s biggest move so far and leaves quite a
number of questions begging, including what does John Alexander think
of all of this? After all Alexander signed off on Rudder’s appointment,
even though Gyngell went on the record in The Australian’s Media section last year claiming credit for Rudder’s hiring.

Alexander is nominal head of Nine as CEO of PBL, but obviously Rudder
has served his purpose so far as Alexander and Gyngell is concerned and
he has been spat out.

Well, yes, that’s one reading, but a more stringent analysis would be
that the news and current affairs disaster in Sydney that has hit Nine
in the past two months, can be sheeted home to the changes in
personnel, format and look introduced by Rudder over the past six
months.

The news, Today, Sunday, A Current Affair, and Business Sunday
have all suffered declining ratings since their look, and at some
programs personnel, were ‘freshened’ up at Rudder’s instigation. But
Gyngell also signed off on these, so he is just as culpable, as is
Kerry Packer.

Rudder has gone off to go gardening, family or personal reasons, the
usual trio of excuses trotted out by CEOs or company boards when senior
executives depart abruptly. Gyngell’s announcement of Rudder’s
departure came as Alexander was at Wimbledon, watching the tennis and
hosting the Nine tent at the tennis.

It firmly establishes Gyngell as CEO of Nine. However, Gyngell will
have to wear some of the fawning comments he made last year on Rudder’s
hiring, such as; “Jim is a rare find in this industry” and “Not only
does he have a strong journalistic background but has consistently
demonstrated an ability to manage people and resources while delivering
quality programming”.

Well, yeeesssss! Even though Gyngell was credited with Rudder’s hiring,
Alexander had the final say during his tenure at Nine when he forced
Peter Meakin to quit as head of news and current affairs. But like so
many decisions at ACP and Nine, and at the Sydney Morning Herald, John
Alexander falls in love with people, and then out of love and leaves
them for others to deal with.

That Rudder’s departure came in the week that Jim Waley’s flak jacket
received more publicity than his reports from Baghdad, and that viewers
tuned out rather than in, would be no coincidence. Jim’s flak jacket,
and one worn by Robert Penfold on set during the news broadcasts (only
Jim was up on Wednesday night), seems to have been a directive from
Sydney.

The explanation going around Nine that the blue jacket for Jim and the
darker one for Penfold were second jackets. They were wearing body
armour under their shirts in the field and put the extra ones on for
broadcasts.

But the Seven reporter, Adrian Brown, and Geoff Thompson of the ABC
seemed not to be wearing jackets (they may have had one underneath
their shirts). But seeing they, like Nine, were broadcasting from a
‘secure area’ in Baghdad, they were content not to wear the over
jackets. (There were reports from Nine last night that Jim will be out
of Iraq a day or two earlier because of the earlier than expected
handover of power by the Americans last Monday).

Anyhow the kefuffle and rather inglorious ratings for the News in
Sydney (and nationally on Tuesday night), plus the still depressed
numbers for A Current Affair, meant that Rudder’s days were numbered.
Not helping were the continuing low numbers for Today, Sunday and
Business Sunday.

So who gets the gig? David Gyngell is running things for the time being
in the news and current affairs area, like he did after Meakin
departed. But a new head will be found. John Westacott must have firmed
in the betting. He’s overseeing the ailing A Current Affair and the still strong 60 Minutes.
And who else? Max Uechtritz? Probably not given he’s only been an Nine
since May and fixing Nine’s News problems in Sydney is a greater, more
hands-on priority.

John Lyons, EP of Sunday? Well, he’s a John Alexander favourite. But
who knows at the moment. Certainly Rudder’s departure will have a
knock-on effect, especially if Westacott gets the gig. He’s ‘old Nine’
and not a fan of the Rudder/Alexander hires in some areas.

There are a few people Rudder has hired to big roles in the news and
current affairs area and their futures must be a little clouded now.
The Australian had the best coverage on the saga today and you can read
their report here – Rudder goes as axe falls at Nine


Westacott firms for Nine’s top gig


Subscriber email – 1 July

A book has been opened about who will get the gig as director of News
and Current Affairs at Nine. For the time being all the program heads
in the news and current affair area will report to CEO David Gyngell,
with holiday boy, John Westacott, the most senior of the lot.

Westie, as he’s known round the Nine lot at Willoughby, is on holiday
for ten days in Fiji with his family. So he wasn’t around for the axing
of Jim Rudder Wednesday evening by Nine CEO, David Gyngell.

Westie has been overseeing 60 Minutes and trying to halt the slide at A Current Affair, without much success.

A good hand at the current affairs business, he’s an ‘old Nine’ person
and everyone’s favourite to get the job that was held by Jim Rudder,
and before him Peter Meakin.

But some smarter punters are having a saver on John Lyons, EP of the
Sunday program and a favourite of PBL CEO John Alexander. They were
together at Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald and Alexander hired him
when he was flicked by Fairfax after being snapped rather incautiously
lunching with News Ltd heavies at Darling Harbour a few years ago.

They say Lyons would be the sort of appointment Alexander would make to
make his point about who was really running things at Nine. But a
smarter punt some cooler heads are saying might be top bet that there
will be no change for a while.

They point out that Westacott has his hands full trying to fix ACA and
while 60 Minutes is doing well, he can’t take his eye off the way the
ABC’s short BBC series, the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, has
been attracting more viewers in the same Sunday night timeslot.

And they also say that Max Uechtritz has his hands full trying to turn
things around in Nine’s Sydney Monday-to-Friday news (Sunday night does
very well for whatever reason that can’t be found to provide the answer
MtF).

Sunday and Business Sunday can be grouped under one person, possibly
John Lyons, with Ross Greenwood still nominally in charge of Business
Sunday
but still doing the Today show and news slots.

What to do with the Today show though remains the other big problem.

The two front people have to be changed later this year, but prodcuer
Darren Wick will probably be given a chance to bridge the gap with
Seven with new presenters. Does Westacott have the time to deal with
that, as well as the Sydney news and ACA in all markets?

Or will Gyngell oversee a fix up of Today, with input from other people?

The other thing at Nine is that following the Alexander-Rudder-Gyngell
purges of the past two years there are not enough experienced senior
producer types around Nine, or enough younger producers, who could be
slotted into these program and allowed to make their mark, with
supervision from Westacott.

Peter Fray

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