Leigh Sales and Chris Uhlmann could both front a revamped 7.30 Report next year, as the ABC’s flagship news program continues to furiously plan for life after Kerry O’Brien.

While a number of presenters are being considered — including Tony Jones, Virginia Trioli, Annabel Crabb and Fran Kelly — Crikey understands management now favours having Sales host the program from Sydney while Uhlmann will act as a co-host or at least in an expanded presenting role out of the ABC’s parliament house bureau in Canberra.

The ABC says the process is “drawing to a close”. A spokesperson says a decision is due “shortly”.

Trioli, who hosts the breakfast program for ABC2 and News 24 out of Melbourne, was in Sydney this week screen testing for the role. Jones was also considered, but it’s understood management is reluctant to shift him from Lateline and particularly Q&A, which under his chairmanship has become one of the broadcaster’s most high-profile programs.

The popular view inside the ABC is that Sales, who has actively lobbied for the role, would complement Uhlmann’s harder political head on the program. Heather Ewart currently presents political segments from Canberra, a job Uhlmann had before joining the 24-hour news network as its political editor.

A group of senior staff, led by news boss Kate Torney, are examining screen tests, which have also been shown to focus groups. ABC boss Mark Scott has said there will be more state-based elements to the program while giving little detail about other changes, fuelling speculation producers may chase a younger audience.

The ABC’s numerous critics have long argued for change at 7.30. Professor Chris Nash, the head of journalism at Monash University, says the review was much-needed.

“It’s had a standard format for several decades,” he told Crikey. “More or less state content, more or less live interviews. Changing technology has lead to more live input but it’s had fairly standard content for a long time. It’s an excellent idea to have another look at it.

“I know for myself that you really think long and hard about whether you’ve got time or the interest to watch a current affairs program at 7.30 at night. People are working longer hours, bringing work home, trying to squeeze in a family life. It’s no longer a case where you wouldn’t be up-to-date on the news if you didn’t watch it with online media and 24-hour coverage.

“There’s a lot of competition and any television program has to offer something quite distinctive if they want people to sit down and watch TV rather than approach things online. The age of the audience of ABC’s current affairs programs is getting older and older and it’s something they really need to look at.”

O’Brien, who has hosted the program since 1995, will step down next month, with a final retrospective show on December 9. He’ll return to the ABC in 2011 in a part-time role fronting Four Corners.