The Nine Network has bitten the bullet and axed its Sydney 6pm newsreader Mark Ferguson in favour of 60 Minutes reporter Peter Overton — the favourite of Nine’s news and current affairs boss, John Westacott. Ferguson has been demoted to read to Saturday and Sunday 6pm bulletins and Overton is due to start reading in Sydney from tonight.

The news comes as Seven said it had chosen Nine’s former long time head kicker Mike Munro to co-front its new Sunday evening (6.30pm) current affairs program with Sydney weekend newsreader, Chris Bath.

Munro’s appointment means that Jurassic Park still rules Sydney TV when news directors find themselves short of an option. Seven’s news and current affairs boss, Peter Meakin and Seven’s CEO, David Leckie. They know his strengths and weaknesses, but the decision is also a sign of just how little Seven (and Nine) have invested in new news reading and hosting talent.

Overton’s appointment is seemingly confirmation that Westacott has got his way at Nine over Sydney news boss Ian Cook who wanted senior reporter, Michael Usher — Nine CEO, David Gyngell had wanted Ferguson to remain in place.

Overton will be replaced at 60 Minutes by Michael Usher, so all three executives have sort of gained something from the shuffling, but Westacott emerges victorious.

Westacott and Overton have been close — he was Westacott’s favourite at 60 Minutes. Westacott tried to take him and himself to Seven back at the end of 2002, shortly after Gyngell took over Nine in his first stint as CEO.

That attempt saw Overton and Westacott both remain at Nine. It was Westacott’s second attempt in a decade to hold Nine to ransom. Back in the early 1990s he tried that on when he was running A Current Affair.

The decision at Nine to change the Monday to Friday 6pm newsreader has been a long time coming. Seven has beaten Nine easily in Sydney for the past four years. But the fault isn’t Mark Ferguson’s: it’s the below par writing, editing and poor story selection.

That is the content is poor compared to Seven which has a better writing and editing team in Sydney withy clearly superior reporters and news reader in Ian Ross, another former Nine employee rejected by David Gyngell and others who ran Nine at the time, such as John Alexander.

Westacott also knew that Overton wanted to stay in Sydney, even though he had a year to go on his 60 Minutes gig. Overton in fact let it be known last year that he was staying in Sydney this year to see the birth of his second child and help wife Jessica Rowe, who was the subject of the now infamous “boned” comment by Eddie McGuire. The 6pm gig allows Overton to remain in Sydney and keeps him at Nine.

But the real difference is the quality of the 5:30pm lead in. Seven has the very established Deal or No Deal. Nine has had a unsuccessful collection of programs for the past four years and that has helped push it further behind Seven year after year. That’s why Nine played hardball with the phone video of Deal or No Deal host Andrew O’Keefe, drunk in a Melbourne street before Christmas. Nine needs to undermine the credibility of O’Keefe and Deal or No Deal (plus Weekend Sunrise which he co-hosts).

Nine is also launching a Weekend Sunrise-style show on Sunday mornings, to be hosted by Leila McKinnon and sports reader Cameron Williams. It will replace the Sunday morning news which was the replacement for Sunday after it was axed. Laurie Oakes’ political interviews will remain with the new program to give it much needed credibility. Leila McKinnon has been performing indifferently in hosting A Current Affair over summer so far.

And rumours are gathering pace that Eddie McGuire will link up with former Today Tonight host Naomi Robson to front a 5.30pm program to help the news. Just how Nine handles the placing of the program in Brisbane will be of considerable interest as the Brisbane Extra program, a hold over from the failed Live At Five experiment, will be of considerable interest. Nine’s Brisbane news is its best performer, and it is up against Seven’s best performing news broadcast across the country. Extra has to remain to continue to help the Brisbane news.

Peter Fray

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