Trust ‘Your ABC’ to crown itself with embarrassment and ignominy over the George Negus Tonight debacle.

Not even the ABC’s team of rusty spinners could sell this turkey of a
decision, the second by the newish head of general factual programming,
Denise Eriksen and signed off by the head of ABC TV, Sandra Levy.

This quote from today’s Sydney Morning Herald story summed up the utter stupidity of the ABC’s approach.

“The ABC was committed to retaining the services of Negus, who was
‘absolutely’ happy about the change,” she (ABC publicist Lesna Thomas)
was quoted as saying in the SMH.

The next paragraph neatly exposed the lie of that comment.

“But when contacted last night by the Herald, Negus said ‘Why would anyone say I’m happy? That’s ridiculous'”. The full story is here.

It takes a rare and special talent among spinners to completely
undermine the message you are attempting to send and Lesna Thomas did
just that in one of the more inept comments in recent times. Didn’t she
realise the media would speak to Negus, and that he would “absolutely”
not be happy?

Certainly when Crikey spoke to him in the late afternoon yesterday he
was bemused, a bit baffled by the decision (he was informed the day
before), and certainly not happy.

His comment this morning on ABC radio that he was told by an ABC
executive, but had yet to be spoken to by a senior ABC executive (Levy,
for instance) just underlines the gutlessness of ABC management from
Russell Balding and the board down.

Rewind’s axing last week could be put down to the normal shuffling of programming, even though it was done in a ham-fisted way.

And even though Rewind was a successful program, having risen above the disaster that Sandra Levy oversaw when it was called History Detectives.

But how stupid has been the axing of George Negus Tonight and the resurrection of the Dimensions style of programming consisting of (perhaps) a George Negus Tonight episode, a wine and food show, an alternate medicine/lifestyle show and a antiques show, plus shifting Gardening Australia out of Hobart and to Melbourne and to Saturday from Friday evening.

Here’s the reaction from today’s Hobart Mercury.
Again bewilderment at why it was necessary to change a winning formula
that appealed to viewers and was drawing more people to that timeslot.

Like it or not the 6.30pm timeslot for the ABC was hurting the
commercials by proving a non-confrontational, straight up and down and
informative approach to its subjects. This was acknowledged in The Australian’s Media section today – By George, Negus dumped.

Certainly given the audience profiles of the ABC and the Seven network,
the latter believes they have a chance of boosting people watching Today Tonight now that this change has been made.

One of the more interesting developments today was the decision by
Angela Catterns on ABC 702 in Sydney to interview Negus. You can find a
report of that segment here.

To allow critical comments from listeners and Negus on the ABC this
morning was a good gusty move by Catterns. That won’t be appreciated
elsewhere at Ultimo by Levy and her minions

So any explanation?

George Negus says none so far. And Lesna Thomas in the SMH was also missing in action on that score.

Denise Eriksen was talking in the Hobart Mercury statement about
sourcing programs from the regions. No, she really meant state
capitals. Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart are state capitals.
Much different to regions.

Regions are different. North Queensland is a distinct region in
Australia, as is Northern Tasmania and Western NSW. Negus went to all
these areas to talk to people, look at issues and ideas.

Northern Tasmania doesn’t like Hobart, North Queensland distrusts anywhere south of say, Townsville.

The comments smack of a defense rather than an explanation.

So how will Eriksen’s new shows do any better? They will all be studio
based. The antiques show will range across collectibles. The alternate
medicine show is based on the huge and growing non traditional medical
market, the wine and food show is based on a London view of Eriksen
about Australian wine.

She has been out of the country for five years and doesn’t
realise her ideas are not new. (Does anyone remember Body and Soul?
Based on the Daily Telegraph liftout in Sydney, it went to air on Foxtel and the Nine Network. Boring, dull and failed!)

She will look for stand up comics to front them after the success of Hames O’Loughlin in fronting The New Inventors and doing his five nights a week on ABC radio in Sydney at 7pm.

They will be cheap, cheaper than GNT and Gardening Australia. It will be made in Melbourne using people and facilities that were producing GNT. Synergy!

Even though Eriksen is an experienced ABC producer five years ago, she
has been out of the country for five years and a lot of things have

Australia is not the UK.

The Couchman show was OK, but not outstanding. Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope is a far more successful program. Attitude came and went and remains unlamented. Not so with GNT, judging by the comments on ABC radio in Sydney.

This is a brief CV from the ABC website issued when she was named as head of General Factual programming:

“Independent producer Denise Eriksen, who has extensive
experience in both Australia and Britain, is the Head of General
Factual and will take up her position in Sydney in September.

“Eriksen, whose credits include Executive Producer of ABC TV’s highly
successful The Games (Series 1) with John Clarke and Clarke’s The
Problem With Men, plus Hessies Shed, The Craic DownUnder for RTE
(Network 2, Dublin), and the former ABC TV current affairs series
Attitude and Couchman.

“For two years from June 2000, Eriksen worked as an Executive Producer
for the UK’s Granada (one of ITVs broadcasters) in its multi-channel
development area and devising and producing the 8 x 30 min series, Take
Time with Twiggy. Fronted by Twiggy and featuring guests like Ken
Russell, Lynda La Plante, Brenda Blethyn, Frederick Forsyth, the series
explored their lives and interests.

“She is currently working in London as head of Content and Deputy
Channel Controller on the Community Channel – a Sky Digital Channel
that works in partnership with the BBC, ITV and Channel Four.

“I’m delighted to be returning to ABC TV and taking up the challenge to
create innovative and exciting programming. The ABC is the natural home
for television dealing with things Australians care about in an
engaging and creative way,” said Eriksen.”

Well yes, you could say that. It is also the natural home for stupid
programming decisions that insult viewers and defy logic, simply
because someone thinks the changes should be made.

Killing a declining program is a tough decision because of the people
involved and the remaining viewers. Killing a successful program, even
at the ABC which falsely professes to be not interested in ratings, is
just plain arrogant.

So look at her suggested replacement. An antiques show. How very
British. We’ve had an antiques show on the ABC in the 80’s, For Love
or Money I think it was. Goodish, but didn’t last in prime time. And
what antiques are they going to talk about. Red cedar sideboards? Dodgy
Queen Anne chairs and Georgian Silverware? Australia has not had the
length of settlement to create a rich store of antiques, many of which
have been dumped on us by sharp pommie dealers.

Collectibles. That will be fascinating. Bakelite canisters are popular. Flying ducks are in!

An alternate medicine lifestyle show. yes, reflexology, iridology,
colonic irrigation, acupuncture. We’ve seen and heard it all before.
And interesting that Your ABC will be putting some sort of official
imprimatur on a version of medicine that is dodgy. Just look at the Pan
Pharmaceuticals debacle last year!

And a Food and Wine show from Adelaide. Yes, you hear Denise and Sandra
agreeing, there’s a lot of wine in South Australia and some good food,
do it from there. And you hear viewers around Australia screaming. Not
more bl**dy cooks and drinkers!

Australia has had cooks, wine and food presenters up to our arse and still going. And we’ve imported them from overseas.

SBS has probably done the best local version with the Maeve O’Mara
Joanna Savill series. Why try to re-invent this wheel one more time?