Nine finally catches up over news hour. The Seven Network has serious problems in its news and current affairs hour (6pm to 7pm). Nine has finally caught and passed Seven on a consistent basis in both the news half hour from 6pm and the current affairs half hour from 6.30pm. Up to this week Nine News had picked up its game and was consistently beating Seven on some nights and in the major markets of Sydney and Melbourne (Nine is very strong in Brisbane). Apart from around the Beaconsfield miners story in May, A Current Affair had found it hard to catch or beat Seven’s Today Tonight. Even though it was doing better with each week, the gap seemed to be a bit too large. But with the surprise death of Steve Irwin, Nine News and A Current Affair have beaten Seven News and Today Tonight or drawn. Nine News and ACA will win the week with the gains made by ACA while being fronted by Karl Stefanovic, especially large. Last night ACA averaged 1.546 million viewers, Today Tonight, 1.295 million, and TT had a margin of 118,000 in Perth, so the win was a hiding. Noticeable has been ACA‘s strength in Melbourne, where TT is headquartered and where host Naomi Robson is based. ACA beat TT by 201,000 in Melbourne last night: that’s a hiding. The gains this week, with Karl Stefanovic in the chair instead of regular host Tracy Grimshaw, are pointing to a permanent change in the not too distant future. The improvement is too hard to ignore and instead of a crude, petulant “boning” of someone, Nine management and Eddie McGuire now have to make a cruel but understandable decision: do they put Stefanovic in the chair at ACA to boost a more important program or leave him to anchor Today (where he doesn’t fire as well) when co-host Jessica Rowe goes on leave). It won’t be because Tracy Grimshaw has failed: far from it, she has held the program together on air this year. It’s just the gains with Stefanovic in the chair at 6.30 pm may prove to be irresistible. Seven can point to the one-off effect, but it’s not the first time Stefanovic has hosted ACA while Tracy Grimshaw has been absent and nor is it the Steve Irwin story: all news programs benefited Monday night. It’s just that more viewers have strayed with Nine News and ACA as the week has gone on. And with Nine now facing a difficult (but in the end far better problem) so is Seven. What can they do to shake up the news in Sydney and especially Melbourne, and how can they revitalise Today Tonight when the formula has been flogged as hard as it can be for the past three years? Maybe the unthinkable there as well: a change in host? And despite his success at 6.30pm and ACA it was back to distant second for Stefanovic and Rowe on Today yesterday. Seven’s Sunrise averaged 491,000, down from the 522,000 of Tuesday morning: Today fell to 275,000, down from the 344,000 on Tuesday morning in the wake of the Irwin death and its aftermath. It would seem he’s a better look for viewers on his own and in the evening, or is it that there’s just no chemistry between himself and Ms Rowe in the mornings, despite shared pregnancies. — Glenn Dyer

The axe falls again at The Bulletin. The bloodletting continues at the Packer-owned media arms, this time it’s at ACP and The Bulletin magazine. The editor of The Bulletin, Kathy Bail, has gone – a move which was on the cards after she took sick leave in the wake of new Editor-in-Chief John Lehmann’s arrival. And Lehmann has also flicked Jana Wendt as a columnist (doing the Lunch With series), but somehow I don’t think it was his decision. It would have been made much higher up the PBL food chain after she parted ways with the Nine Network last week. That means The Bulletin has lost six senior journalists since John Lehmann came on board: assistant editor Tim Blair, a favourite of former Editor-in-Chief, Gary Linnell, was first to go. Linnell, who is now at Nine, could be adventurous and try Blair in a TV role – perhaps to see if he can host Sunday. He’d certainly be an improvement on Ross Greenwood. Besides Blair, writer Diana Bagnall, online editor Lynda Dugdale and photographer Kylie Melinda have also gone. The worry is that five of the six are female, which echoes the loss of senior female executives at Nine in 2004 and 2005. The Bulletin‘s chief sub-editor, Andrew Forbes, is the replacement as editor. — Glenn Dyer  

Last night’s TV ratings

The Winners: Ten’s Thank God You’re Here returned last night and programmers at the network could be forgiven for saying “Thank God You’re Back”. Ten’s share perked up nicely. Comedy again proved to be a bigger drawcard for viewers than a Steve Irwin tribute on Nine and the appearance of Seven’s The Force at 7.30pm. But it was a night on which Nine cleverly snatched a win from Ten. Thank God returned to average 1.756 million people, House on Ten at 8.30pm averaged 1.695 million, Nine’s tribute to Steve Irwin at 7.30pm averaged 1.669 million, A Current Affair averaged 1.546 million, Nine News, 1.511 million, Home and Away at 7pm for Seven, 1.423 million, then Seven News in seventh spot with 1.416 million. NCIS on Ten at 9.30, 1.360 million (it and House were new eps), Temptation on Nine at 7pm, 1.335 million and Today Tonight was tenth and last with 1.295 million. Seven’s The Force, 7.30pm, 1.268 million, Without A Trace, Nine, after the Irwin special, 1.238 million and Police Files (Seven at 8 pm), 1.209 million. Spicks and Specks on the ABC averaged 1.12 million (down a bit on the previous two weeks), Forensic Investigators on Seven at 8.30 pm averaged 1.059 million (good, with a good lead-in) and the 7pm ABC News was the 16th and final program with a million or more viewers on 1.039 million viewers.

The Losers: Not Bert, Family Feud averaged 669,000, Seven’s Deal Or No Deal, 828,000, Ten News at Five, 925,000. The 9/11 story on Nine after Without a Trace (after 9.30 pm, averaged 882,000 and ran to close to midnight. It helped Nine win the night from Ten but in terms of appeal to a wide audience? Seven has a 9/11 special slotted in for Sunday night up against Nine’s 50 years of TV tribute. Extras on the ABC at 9 pm, 785,000 viewers are still with this slow-moving Ricky Gervais follow-up to The Office. The Glass House outshines it at 9.30 pm, even if it attracted fewer viewers last night (721,000).

News & CA: Nine News and A Current Affair won the battle last night, toppling Seven despite the latter’s News and Today Tonight winning by more than 100,000 viewers in Perth.The gap between ACA and Today Tonight was huge, even accounting for Perth: 251,000. Nine won everywhere bar Perth. ABC News averaged more than a million viewers in another strong performance but for the second night in a row viewers deserted The 7.30 Report which averaged just 672,000. the strong competition on Nine, Ten and Seven at 7.30 pm was too attractive. Sunrise beat Today.

The Stats: Nine won with a share of 30.4% (30.1%) from Ten with 28.0%(20.6%), Seven third with 24.0% (24.5%). The ABC averaged 13.9% (16.5%) and SBS, 3.8% (6.7%). Nine leads the week, 28.9% to 28.3%. In regional areas, Nine’s affiliates, WIN/NBN averaged 29.6% from Ten’s affiliate, Southern cross, with 26.4%, Prime/7Qld was third with 25.8%, the ABC was next with 13.9% and SBS was on 4.3%. A Current Affair was the most popular program in the bush with 780,100 people but the Nine special on Steve Irwin was second with 726,700, down on the figure for the Seven program the night before.Still more than 2.3 million people watched the Nine program around the country.

Glenn Dyer’s comments: A good win by Nine last night with a more consistent programming lineup which just outlasted Ten. The 9/11 special from after 9.30 pm to midnight or thereabouts did the trick. Steve Irwin is fading: the 1.669 million who watched Ray Martin host Nine’s special last night was down on the 2.1 million plus who watched Seven’s half hour effort the night before. That benefited from having the huge hit, Border Security as a lead-in but that’s TV. Nine decided to wait an extra day, flew the Irwin manager, John Stainton, to Sydney and back late yesterday for the exclusive, and paid the price in fewer viewers. Stainton had blackbanned Seven who proved more agile than Nine. Ray Martin was fair to average as a host: at times his sincerity and that of David Koch and Mel Doyle on Seven the night before was all a bit too cloying. If Ray Martin says “mate” again to someone on the screen with him I’ll throw something at the set! What would have got up Nine’s nose would have been finishing second behind Thank God You’re Here on Ten which returned. A bit of levity always does better in my opinion (it was one of Steve Irwin’s saving graces). Seven will say The Force was belted by Thank God and the Steve Irwin special. It would have had a better chance up against an appalling program on mothers-in-law that Nine had originally slotted into the 7.30 pm slot last night. For all the exploitation of Steve Irwin in his death, the Australian TV networks proved curiously reluctant to do anything (apart from Ten which had a small dabble) on a regular basis with him. He was a creature of Pay TV in the US and here. Tonight it’s Footy Shows on Nine, Earl and Celebrity Survivor on Seven, David Tench on Ten and Ronnie Johns. But the big drawcard should be the Bogle Chandler doco on the ABC at 8.30 pm: but probably only for people in the Boomer years.

Peter Fray

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