Were the changes at Nine’s A Current Affair a direct result of a test of wills between the executive producer, John Westacott, now departed along with his number-two John McAvoy, and the program’s host, Ray Martin, still in the chair and on screen? From talk around Nine today it certainly looks like it, especially after a dinner in Sydney last Friday night that now seems pivotal to what happened on Tuesday.
It was six days too early to be described as “The Last Supper”, but coming so close to Easter those who attended had no hesitation to describe it in those terms after the bloodletting at the Nine Network’s head office at Willoughby in Sydney. The working dinner, at the Peacock Gardens restaurant in Crow’s Nest, was attended by some of the cream of Nine’s current affairs producers, all involved on the network’s once powerful A Current Affair. Some were flown in from interstate.
But the host wasn’t invited. It was a sort of “war party” to discuss the problems besetting ACA, which has spent this year running second to Seven’s Today Tonight. Convened by John Westacott, the dinner turned into a “bash the host” session as well as a rave about the performance of the other producers. The mood was hesitant and a touch restive. Discussion became animated, especially with the line being pushed by the leadership group. Those troops at the dinner left with a distinct feeling that they were being blamed for the lack of leadership at the top of the program – and that included host Ray Martin.
Martin quickly learned of the tenor of the meeting and went to Nine management this week with a line something along the lines of: its either me or them. “Back me or sack me”. Gyngell opted for the easier option, especially with suggestions that Martin has a clause in his contract requiring a huge payout in the event of him being removed from the chair at ACA.
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So the two Johns, Westacott and McAvoy, are out – Westacott to concentrate on 60 Minutes, McAvoy to consider his position. Westacott’s fierce exhortation to the troops that it was up to them to fix the problems, otherwise it would be their jobs, fell on deaf ears.