Marlon Brando maybe dead, but
his spirit and that of Mario Puzo lives on at Channel Nine

The bunker mentality at Nine was well-illustrated by the reaction to
last week’s flak jacket fiasco from Iraq and the constant needling by
Channel Seven.

The calls Nine CEO, David Gyngell returned or made to gossip columnists
about rumours that Jim Waley might leave his news gig when he returns
from Iraq, and on the question of who will front the Today Show, showed
the touchiness of Nine management to perceived examples of bad publicity.

Its the siege of Willoughby from within and we haven’t seen this sort of
knee-jerk reaction and blind flailing about for years. But there’s also something else going on that begs the question, who is
running Nine?

As remarked in other stories, there’s a sense that David Gyngell is at
least trying to take control and move to the front foot. There’s also a
growing belief inside Nine that Kerry Packer is back in the game and
that the disruptive John Alexander is out and running PBL business, but
for the moment, just running the ACP magazines business.

Wishful thinking maybe by some at Nine, but the move by Packer to become
deputy chairman, his visit to Nine in late June to Willoughby and
allowing Nine managers to use Ellerston for a ‘bonding’ and discussion
day, are signs that the ‘Big Fella” as he is affectionately known, is
there behind David Gyngell, helping, prodding and teaching his godson
about television.

If that’s the case then there could be hope that Nine can repel the
assault from Seven, which is facing its own management pressures at the
moment. Already Gyngell has asserted himself by ‘departing’ Jim Rudder, the head
of news and current affairs.
There will not be any replacement from the time being.

John Westacott will continue to oversee 60 Minutes and A Current Affair,
but will report to Gyngell, as will all the other EP’s of the news and
current affairs area.
Max Uechtritz will be network director of news but in
realityconcentrating on stopping the rot in Sydney as a priority.

That means direct responsibility for making sure Uechtritz does stop the
rot and a similar slide in viewer numbers at A Current Affair, rests
with Gyngell, just as it rested with Rudder, and before him, Peter
Meakin, now at Seven.

It also means that the reversal in fortunes suffered by the Today show
in the mornings rests not only with the EP, Darren Wick, but in the end
also with Gyngell.

And likewise with Business Sunday and Sunday, the two Sunday morning
current affairs programs under pressure from Seven in particular, but
also the ABC, and to a much lesser extent, Ten.

Not appointing a head of News and Current Affairs would be a sign of Sam
Chisolm’s influence resurfacing at Nine in the Gyngell era.

There was no News and Current Affairs boss when Chisholm ran Nine. The
EP’s of the various programs reported to him and were answerable to him.

Chisholm has already had influence at Nine with involvement in the
appointments of Ray Martin and Jana Wendt to ACA and Sunday respectively.

But a more manipulative theory is that Gyngell has told Westacott that
he can have the job, if he fixes A Current Affair. Until then the
position will not be filled and Gyngell is taking direct, hands-on control.

Westacott was on 10 days holiday in Fiji when Rudder left, but is in
close touch.

There were signs of this Tuesday with the snatching of the Frank Cole
interview exclusive by Ray Martin over Azaria Chamberlain, and promise
of Lindy Chamberlain on Wednesday night, at a reputed cost according to
a disgruntled Seven operative of $150,000.

Another sign of Gyngell’s assertiveness was the decision to re-introduce
a pay office at Nine, with a person staffing it capable of making
decisions, instead of housing everything in at Park St where PBL is
headquartered.

There is no doubt that the new, higher profile moves by Gyngell, are a
sign of greater confidence now that he is in charge, and without the
negativeness of having John Alexander ensconced just down the corridor
on the third floor at Willoughby in the big white corner office.

With Packer back effectively helping Gyngell run Nine (after all why was
Gyngell appointed CEO of Nine, if not to make decisions independent of
what Alexander thought), there are signs from Park Street that Alexander
is actually just running ACP, and ticking off on the rest of the business.

Rowen Craigie runs Crown, and will oversee Burswood if that bid
succeeds, which is starting to look increasingly possible.

As Crikey reported several weeks ago when Peter Yates was replaced,
Alexander has realised that PBL CEO’s don’t do very much and in all
reality, have little to administer when strong CEO’s are running the
various arms.

He knew that when he was running the ACP magazines business and David
Leckie was running Nine and Rowen Craigie was making his way up the pole
at Crown.

Nick Falloon could at least oversee finance and numbers being a former
CFO, but in the end that wasn’t enough to save him from a nervous and
impatient James Packer. And Peter Yates could not do anything because of
his total lack of experience in anything, bar some expertise in gaming,
but that was covered.

Now David Gyngell is at Nine and with the support of his Godfather, some
dismantling of some of the things that Alexander attempted, is taking place.

There’s the Rudder departure, and the Pay Office decision, which also is
a direct snub to Nine’s Chief Financial Officer, Brent Cubis, an
Alexander appointment.

Cubis was responsible for much of the problems in the payroll
integration and the problems in the Kiosk HR system because they were
his projects to drive, and he failed.

But a common complaint among program managers at Nine that the Alexander
legacy of ‘business managers’, in reality accountants, remains all
pervasive and an impediment to program making. While that can be
dinosaurs talking, it can be seen in the slow reaction of Nine to
Seven’s news and current affairs comeback.

Crikey has reported Gyngell’s displeasure about Rudder and Cubis. And,
when he’s upset, he’s shown himself capable of acting on his feelings,
and making a point to the rest of troops inside the besieged
battlements at Willoughby.

Now he has to start getting some results.
The Eddie McGuire experiment at 5.30 failed, and so has the expanded
version of The Price is Right.

Nine quite often slips early in the week, only to swamp Seven on
Wednesday or Thursday nights with quite strong performances mid-evening.

But Sunday and Monday night’s performance by Nine was quite possibly its
worst two nights for years. But that could also help Gyngell by
providing a nice low point he can push off against.

Peter Meakin’s constant public sniping have got them rattled. Such as
his comment in the Sunday Telegraph that Nine was “like the Titanic and
its headed for a new iceberg each week.”

Nine staffers also blame Meakin for a lot of the off the anti-Nine
record sniping and comments, but Meakin has always proudly said that if
he was going to bag anyone, it would be on the record and done in public.

But such is the paranoia at Nine at the moment that the private
conspiracy feelings are running riot.

But a measure of the depth of concern and paranoia is that the CEO of
the country’s top rating TV network has twice rung or answered gossip
columnists to deny speculation.

And Gyngell has form from the past two years of denying something, only
for the opposite to happen down the track at Nine.
The question of the anchor of Nine News in Sydney, and nationally Ray
Martin’s gig at ACA and that of Steve Liebmann at Today, will prove to
be the litmus tests for Gyngell’s veracity in matching his public
comments with the actual outcomes later this year or early next year.

But its clearly the Kerry and David Show at Nine, which is at least a
start in the right direction.

Peter Fray

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