Programs are dropping like flies at the ABC, and now the focus turns to 4 Corners and Media Watch, as Terry Television reports.
Is there an attempt underway to shuffle 4 Corners out of its long time Monday night slot of 8.30pm? And what about these that Media Watch’s future is clouded? Now there’s a suggestion that the prestigious rural affairs program Landline (Sunday’s 12 noon) is going to have its hour length cut in half, with staff and recourses allocated to producing one of these stupid ‘regional’ programs from Brisbane for Sandra Levy, the head of ABC TV.

These moves are being portrayed as evidence of Ms levy’s move to limit the influence of the News and Current Affairs division in ABC TV programming and resources.

Any move on the ABC’s flagship current affairs program would be seen as a direct assault by Levy on the so-called NewsCaff operations overseen by John Cameron, whom she chose for the job as part of a selection panel earlier in the year.

One option suggested for 4 Corners is to swap it and Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope, on Monday nights. Enough Rope often attracts 20% to 50% more viewers some nights than the combination of 4 Corners and Media Watch before it.

4 Corners’ audience so far this year is averaging around 784,000 people, that’s up on the past couple of years. But what worries ABC TV management is the huge turn-off factor from Australian Story to 4 Corners, and then a huge turn-on from Media Watch to Enough Rope.

When the Denton Show was in the schedule (it finished up two Mondays ago), it rated 1.025 million people during the year on average, that’s well over 230,000 more than 4 Corners, and an hour later in the evening with lower television use.

Take last Monday night. There may have been no Denton program, but the first part of the Milat family story on Australian Story was watched by an average of 1.219 million people. 4 Corners that night (a good yarn about how the Russian KGB penetrated ASIO for years) was watched by an average of 754,830 people, around 464,000 less than Australian Story. There was a further turn-off to Media Watch which averaged just over 692,000 people, while the spack filler that was Paul McCartney in Red Square attracted 719,084 people.

The highest rating 4 Corners in recent months was the excellent program on our problems with water several weeks ago that was watched by just over a million people.

There’s also concern that ABC management might take the opportunity to drop or move Media Watch, whichhas done well, holding its own in terms of audience, but also depending on 4 Corners before it and the Denton show after it.

But it has antagonised some in senior management and on the board by not sparing the ABC from its work.

There have been suggestions that with host David Marr going back to the Sydney Morning Herald, either shifting Media Watch to another timeslot or getting rid of it, could be an option.

It is fairly easy to do that, even with a strong host. Just take the way the ABC axed another successful program this year, George NegusTonight (6.30pm) in a decision driven by inept ABC budget management more than anything else.

The move on Landline is hard to understand, given that it is produced in Brisbane for ‘regional’ and political reasons (the National Party likes to have a rural affairs program based in the ‘regions’).

There are suggestions that the move is to generate resources in staff and budget and facilities in Brisbane to produce a half hour program once a week to fill in for the axing of GNT. But that raises the question of whether the funding is for these ‘regions’

In the National Interest Initiative of 2001, much of the $17.8 million a year allocated appears to have been frittered away. There are rumours around the ABC of budgetary shortfalls.

And to complicate matters there’s apparently some interest in the fate of 4 Corners and its position in the 2005 schedule from very senior ABC management.

A lot of the stories inside the ABC are tied up with the battle between News and Current Affairs and the TV side.

ABC TV head Sandra Levy does not like having to defer in her scheduling to News and Current Affairs. Nor does the head of ABC Radio, Sue Howard. Both want this to change.

ABC people say that was behind her decision not to go live with the announcement of the October 9 election on Sunday September 3.

She also sat on the selection panel that selected the new head of News and Current Affairs at the ABC, John Cameron, to replace Max Uechtritz who went to Nine in Sydney.

That is seen inside ABC News and Current Affairs as an attempt to assert control over the division by Levy.

But in her defence is that the ABC’s ratings have rarely been stronger. Clever purchases of British material has helped, such as the BBC’s Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, some David Attenborough and reasonable UK drama. But programs such as Kath and Kim have been big winners, while The Einstein Factor on Sunday’s at 6.30pm and the New Inventors, Wednesdays at 8pm, have done very well up against tough commercial competition

You would have said the reborn Rewind, Sunday’s 9.30pm, has been a success until canned a fortnight ago by Levy and her new head of general factual content programming, Denise Eriksen. After saying no to all history ideas though, the EP, Peter George has been given an extra week to come up with ideas that he will not be associated with!

But Levy and her executives could have no objection to the solid performance this year of the 7pm news, The 7.30 Report (especially Red Kerry) and Australian Story on Monday nights, as all are performing well.