A case of the boner being boned?

Is the Nine Network, specifically CEO David Gyngell, trying to get rid of Eddie McGuire?

A week hosting A Current Affair was successful — the program’s audience and national ranking improved on what Gyngell’s wife, Leila McKinnon, had done the week before. Compared to regular host, Tracy Grimshaw, who returned last night, it was a good effort.

But Eddie’s effort at ACA raised questions of taste (and, yes, I know it’s 6.30pm tabloid TV time) with his two segments on the life and times of Roberta Williams, who was (is?) married to Carl Williams, a convicted killer. In neither case was there any mention of Roberta’s problems with the law on drugs.

The two outings made for rich pickings from ABC TV’s Media Watch last night.

But in the end it was a temporary gig: Eddie’s regular job is as a game show host and he crashed and burned yesterday when Nine axed the return of 1 vs. 100 to the TV screens in the AFL markets of Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, and regional TV in those areas after just two eps. The first outing averaged 199,000 in Melbourne, the second last Friday night, 204,000. The show was brought back from the dead on the muddle-headed basis that it would try and steal viewers from Seven’s Better Homes and Gardens in Melbourne, and therefore the AFL broadcast on Seven at 8.30pm Friday nights.

That was the reason advanced by Nine’s Melbourne programmer, Len Downes. That went horribly wrong as Better Homes‘ audience on the first Friday was 404,000 and it jumped to 493,000 last Friday night and helped make the Seven program the second most watched program in the week.

That was a Melbourne programming decision that went wrong (and no doubt is seen as such in Sydney). But what then of the mechanics of the way Gyngell pushed Eddie into hosting ACA?

Karl Stefanovic was down to follow Leila McKinnon into the ACA chair but “something came up”. Well it must have been really vital and at night because Karl hosted Today last week.

Nine Melbourne didn’t know about Eddie until the decision was made Friday afternoon of June 6 (D Day!). Nine insiders point out that it is interesting that Gyngell was the one talking on the move, not Nine’s head of News And Current Affairs, John Westacott.

Even though there was a relative improvement in ACA‘s performance, it wasn’t well hosted and the numbers were soft. But better than Tracy Grimshaw.

So the question is being asked: was it an attempt to set up Eddie McGuire to fail in ACA, or just a one-off chance to see what he looked like in the host’s chair? After all, he had been trying to get the gig for a year or more in 2006 and 2007 in a revamped 6pm to 7pm news and current affairs hour.

Then there’s the fact that Eddie gets more money than Gyngell — a reported $4.7 million a year — and will do so for another one to two years.

The reality is Nine wouldn’t bat an eyelid if Eddie came and said he had a gig elsewhere. It’s the money; he wants too much. And no-one will want to meet his expectations when he comes off contract, unless he goes to Foxtel. But are they that eager?

That’s why there are stories around of him going to the Seven Network, and how he’s always been mates with Ian Johnson, Seven’s head of HSV in Melbourne and former GTV 9 boss and the man who recruited Eddie from Ten to head up the AFL Footy Show.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off