Today pulls a swifty on Sunrise: Saturday morning Nine snuck in the start of Today on Saturday from 7am to 9am, without telling the audience in advance. That’s radical TV and no doubt the result of some serious brainstorming. The reason was to stop Seven from starting Sunrise on Saturday. Seeing Nine already had run Today on Saturday years ago and killed it off because no one was watching, it’s a brave move for a network with no money and falling ad revenues. The main reason no one was watching was that people shopped, slept in or had to rush the kids off to sport.

People socialised as well and Nine’s first go at Today was easily beaten by kids TV on Seven and the ABC, not to mention Video Hits on Ten. But desperate times breed desperate solutions. Nine’s driver was explained in a separate story in the AFR marketing section where the Network’s sales boss, Peter Wilshire, made it clear the network would cut rates to try and attract more advertisers and revenue. Nine doesn’t have to pay interest until midway through next year, so it’s trying loss leading and spending heavily on new programs to try and beat Seven. If this doesn’t work, PBL Media will be broke in a year’s time and heading for receivership. Nine is also restarting the late evening news at 11.30pm and is expanding the 11am news by 30 minutes to an hour and the 4.30pm news by half an hour, and boasting about it, with former News boss, John Westacott claiming, straight-faced that more Australians get their news from Nine that any other source.

That’s an old Nine advertising line, used when it was king of news and current affairs. Well, Westie, dream on, every one of your news broadcasts rates poorly, with the really serious bulletin at 6 pm running 400,000 behind Seven, with Today Tonight just as far behind. Both are the programs news and current affairs success in ratings terms, are judged. Don’t mistake quantity for quality. (And Seven’s Today Tonight has taken a big hit from that High Court decision last week).

There once was a time when Nine had both quantity and quality: Sunday, Business Sunday, Small Business, Nightline, ACA, Today was winning, plus the morning news was tops. But John Alexander and a series of inept news and current affairs bosses after Peter Meakin was forced out, have allowed Nine’s core competency to be run down and turned into a laughing stock. David Gyngell added to that when he returned to Nine in 2007; he killed off Sunday and Nightline in July of last year in one of his cost cutting waves. (It’s five years next Sunday, actually, May 9, since David Gyngell walked out of Nine).

In Sydney, where the move to put Peter Overton in to the 6 pm host’s chair’s has seen a small lift in viewing numbers, rival Seven News has lifted its viewer numbers, so no gain. Nine’s News boss Mark Calvert announced the extended changes in a memo to staff at 7pm Saturday. No extra staff and the real story is that Nine has run out of programs to fill the 90 minutes a day that the extended news broadcasts will be filling.

Bean counter TV masquerading as strategy. If News was so fantastic, why didn’t Mr Gyngell bring it back when he came back to Nine in late 2007, instead of hacking and slashing? No apology from Gyngell in his free kick story in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday and no explanation seemed to have been sought for this quite dramatic turnaround. Mr Gyngell claimed that Nine News will overtake Seven by the end of the year. He didn’t quite specify which bulletin, what measure, but he’s a believer.

The 4.30pm news’s new longer version won’t last. It’s only an attempt to try and warm up viewers ahead of the start of the new 4.30pm program that won’t be news, but will be, but not enough to stop people watching at 6pm. Seriously. Mark Ferguson will top and tail it, or host it with Andrew Daddo (why is he still on air on ABC local radio then after disappearing a week or so ago?). It takes more than just an extra 90 minutes of news a day to convince viewers that Nine is serious about news and current affairs again. But then Seven has been almost as slack: now it’s hired someone to play correspondent in London for Sunrise, and no doubt other Seven programs, such as News (Heaven forbid). That’s around four years after killing off the London job and flying correspondents in from Los Angeles or Australia. The London move is a counter to Nine’s Today show recovery. It’s amazing what happens when the pressure is on, in commercial TV. — Glenn Dyer

Okay, so The Monthly thing is getting ridiculous — though some of us can’t get enough. The champion of overkill has to be Caroline Overington, whose daily reports (part of the Oz‘s extended fatwa against Robert Manne) are masterpieces of the art of slanted, ostensibly objective coverage, worthy of study in journalism schools, along with wikipedia for dummies. This from the latest report:

Supporters of Manne continued to batter Warhaft yesterday, including Ronald A. Sharp, professor of English at New York’s Vassar College, who put out a statement saying Warhaft had pursued him to write an essay, and had treated him with respect and generosity during a meeting in Melbourne but then ignored him when it was done.

“Never before, in 40 years of working with publishers and editors, had I heard of an editor simply ignoring multiple inquiries from a writer whose work had already been accepted,” he said.

Watch and learn workies. You actually turn the fairly serious criticism of Warhaft against Manne by a metaphorical suggestion of domestic abuse. After all what sort of men batter a woman? Old men too. And a willowy beauty. Bravo CO — right up there with Rush Limbaugh’s comment that last month’s Somali rescue involved President Obama shooting ‘three Muslim teenagers’, like it was a ghetto drive-by. That’s talent that is. — Guy Rundle

Seems The Monthly might miss former editor Sally Warhaft’s design vision. The latest edition of The Monthly, her last, is a powerful example…

More pismire nostalgia, this time from comic dog Andrew Bolt. In writing about John Howard’s National Review TV interviews — which he calls “Howard unplugged” an infelicitous phrase suggesting less Nirvana than the late Sunny Von Bulow — Bolt is struck by one phrase: “…could a Rudd ever dare say that — or this?

China is a communist dictatorship.

No spin.”

Well no spin there. But I suspect Howard was less forthcoming when he addressed the Chinese Communist Party cadre training school in the early 2000s, on an official visit. And probably not when China’s secret service security squad was allowed to have the run of Parliament House in the President’s visit in 2003 — when the only politicians to make any visible dissent about China’s human rights record were Green senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle. Snooze on Bolter, legs thrashing in the air, caught in your little doggy dream. — Guy Rundle

With friends like these. ABC Canberra breakfast announcer Ross Solly spent much of his program on Friday explaining his absence the day before after his colleague, morning show host Alex Sloan, had explained to on-air listeners on Thursday that Solly had been “too tired and emotional” to be on air.

Indeed, Solly also apparently spent much of his off-air time explaining himself as well. He told listeners during the late-afternoon phone-in AFL panel segment he does each Thursday that when he arrived at his son’s football practice that same afternoon he had been surrounded by children wanting to know about Sloan’s on-air reference that morning. “Tired and emotional? We know what that means.”

During his own program on Friday, Solly explained that he had had the prior approval of local ABC management to miss his Thursday shift because he had attended the annual ABC Local Radio Awards held in Canberra on Wednesday night.

When Solly and Sloan did their usual handover chat on Friday, the mood varied between defiantly apologetic (Sloan said people should learn to “take a joke”) and mildly threatening (Solly said Sloan would “hear from my lawyer”.)

It perhaps wouldn’t have been so bad for Solly if he’d actually won the category he was nominated in at the ABC Local Radio awards — Local Program of the Year (Metropolitan & Networked). But that prize went to Evenings with Derek Guille – ABC Local Radio Victoria.

It’s unclear whether Derek Guille missed any of his on-air shifts during last week.

Amy Winehouse wins court ban on paparazzi at her home. Singer Amy Winehouse has fought back against paparazzi photographers keen to record every aspect of her troubled private life, winning a high court anti-harassment injunction and posting the ruling outside her new home in the London suburbs. The order bans leading paparazzi agency Big Pictures from following Winehouse but also refers to any “persons unknown” seeking to photograph the musician outside her home and in other public places if they have pursued her. This means that any photographers could face prosecution if they follow Winehouse by any means or approach her within 100 metres of her new home. — The Guardian

American newspaper deathwatch: Columbia, Washington. The company that publishes The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Washington, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in an effort to resolve credit issues involving a building project. The Columbian Publishing Co. made the filing Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Tacoma. The Columbian reports the case involves credit issues with Bank of America, the primary lender on a $40 million building project Columbian Publishing completed last year in downtown Vancouver. — Editor and Publisher

OK! Magazine now just toying with soon-to-be fired staff. OK Magazine recently hired a woman named Juliet Gray to “consult” with the publisher. “Consult” in this case means to “fire.” Gray is an ax man but she likes to toy with her victims first. Gray sent out an email to all staffers on Friday. On Tuesday she plans to meet with everyone. We anticipate we’ll be reporting massive lay-offs that afternoon. — Gawker

Miss California anti-gay-marriage ad lacks bite. You know, there was a time when you could depend on religious zealots to deliver hateful, blustery dogmatism. But this new breed just doesn’t have the same fire. Case in point: Miss California’s new anti-gay-marriage ad for the National Organization for Marriage.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wA2yC8VAhzU&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

The title of the commercial is “No Offense,” which begs the question of how NOM thinks that’s going to get across the message that gays are immoral and disgusting. At least its earlier “Gathering Storm” spot showed a healthy amount of fear-mongering. That they’re strapping a glorified swimsuit model to the front of their movement is apt, because evidently they’re as clueless as she is. — AdFreak

Portfolio editor-in-chief doesn’t like online media. During Portfolio‘s two-year run, former editor-in-chief Joanne Lipman received no shortage of negative press for her management of the Conde Nast business magazine. Few of Lipman’s detractors were as relentless as New York gossip blog Gawker, which ran more than 40 posts about Lipman during her tenure at the troubled title. After her magazine folded Monday, Lipman said “I don’t read Gawker,” comparing the site to Twitter, in that it’s “a time suck and mostly useless.” While blogs and social networking certainly can be distracting, Lipman may want start paying more attention to online media, since criticism throughout her Portfolio tenure suggested she wasn’t particularly Internet-savvy, resulting in a “retro” web presence for the magazine and leaving many we’ve spoken with wondering whether she squandered the potential of the well-regarded Web talent within the magazine’s fold. — Media Bistro

Peter Fray

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