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Current survivor

EXCLUSIVE: In a rare two part interview, Tracy Grimshaw talks to TV Tonight about the changing landscape of current affairs.

EXCLUSIVE: The landscape for television current affairs has been moving almost at the rapid pace with which some journos would chase a shonky builder. There are budget cuts, new hosts, state-based editions and media speculation about the future. Sitting front and centre through it all is Nine’s Tracy Grimshaw, who took up the permanent hosting role on A Current Affair in 2006.

In a rare interview, she spoke to TV Tonight about her thoughts on the current climate of television current affairs, reflecting everything from their content to ratings to Eddie McGuire’s hosting and to her future.

In Part One of a two part interview, Grimshaw looked back on her early years.

She joined Channel Nine in 1981, following an early journalism job in suburban newspapers. As a National Nine News reporter, Grimshaw did 13 years on the road, before hosting Daybreak News, Animal Hospital and ten years on the Today show. There was even a brief stint co-hosting Midday between Derryn Hinch and Kerri-Anne Kennerley.

“It was with David Reyne and it was so brief that everybody forgets,” she says. “It was not a glorious period in the Midday Show time. Ray had left, Derryn took over and then it got axed. And then they decided to bring it back, but with such a skinny little budget that it was such a shadow of its former self.

“I remember we had Christine Anu performing a pop song and we couldn’t even afford a band or a set so she did it almost accapella. I think she had her brother on a two string guitar!”

As a Nine survivor, Grimshaw has witnessed much change, in management, News and budget cuts. She admits that transition does not always come easy, noting it’s human nature to resist change.

“For a long time at this network things didn’t change very much at all. We were a really solid, stable network. We had the same News Directors for years and years, we obviously had the same proprietor, the same CEO for years and years. We were just not accustomed to change. Even under the halcyon days of Kerry Packer, which we all look back on with great fondness, the razor gang would go through every few years and there would be fear and trepidation and then it would settle down again.”

Television audiences have changed too, she says, with Pay TV, and most especially the internet, impacting on News.

“People can get their News sitting at their desk. It used to be at a certain time they would see the pictures, the plane crash or the tsunami, in incredibly telling pictures in the 6:00 News that night.

“Now they see it during the day on their desktops. So that changes audiences, their behaviour, their expectations. That’s obviously going to change the way networks run News.”

Grimshaw is more than aware that many deride the state of current affairs on commercial TV. There are criticisms that the genre is not hard-hitting enough, peppered with consumerism and celebrity-stories.

“People look back with great fondness on the days when Willesee was doing it,” she says, “and he’d hang his hat on the hard-hitting political interview of the day. And Jana too. They compare what we are now with that. And a lot of people compare us unfavourably with that.

“The truth is back then when Mike Willesee was hosting the show, Marty King was still being beaten over the head with watering cans chasing bad guys down the street. Back then it was new. No-one had seen reporters put themselves on the line before to chase crooks down the street. So it was considered new, brave and determined. Now it’s been seen a million times before so it’s viewed with derision in some parts.”

Grimshaw, who revels at the opportunity to get her teeth into a studio interview, privately wishes ACA could include more headline analysis. But as any News Director will sadly admit, they don’t always register with audiences, especially with politics.

“There’s no question the show has changed, and I wish in many ways it hadn’t,” she says. “I would much prefer to every day be doing a cutting edge interview with the newsmaker of the day. I would like to do that. I would like to put a politician on the spot and light a fire under them. I did it everyday for 10 years on the Today show. But the truth is at this hour of the day it seems not to work.

“If we were making Current Affair just for me, to suit myself journalistically, I would do that interview. But we don’t make it for me. We make it for the people who sit down and who we want to switch onto us at 6:30 at night. If they switch off when we do an interview like that, or a story like that, if they tell us ‘we’re not interested’ we ignore them at out peril.”

“Unfortunately for me, it’s not what our viewers want. We have to listen to our viewers.”

And then there are all those diet and bra stories that seem to pervade the genre. Grimshaw knows it’s a fair call but concedes she doesn’t always get what she wants on the show. In her typically up-front style, she didn’t deflect the criticism.

“I’m on the record as saying the bra stories are not my favourite!” she laughs.

“We did do one bra story that I thought revolutionised bras. I genuinely think the U-Bra is an innovation. When there’s nothing much that’s new under the sun in the bra department, the U-Bra really was. Because the U-Bra worked, and women went ‘wow, how good is that?’ we suddenly thought all bra stories would work.”

Grimshaw also acknowledges that, editorially, the public broadcasters enjoy more investigative reporting than the 6:30 shows can include. But she says a story on an individual’s struggle with corporates is equally as valid.

“To those people who have been ripped off it’s just as important,” she says. “We get hundreds of emails everyday saying ‘please help, I don’t know what to do,’ then what we do when we investigate something like that is help those people. And if that makes us tabloid then I guess we have to wear that.”

When she moved from Today to ACA Grimshaw says she was staggered at the amount of emails that were ‘a cry for help.’ For all its criticisms and barbs the programme has the power to effect change.

“A phone call from ACA to a bank or Telstra if they’ve billed someone unreasonably, and suddenly it’s fixed. That makes a world of difference to that person. It’s not exposing high levels of corruption at a government level for sure, but it makes a difference on the ground to people’s lives.”

TOMORROW: Tracy Grimshaw talks about the introduction of state-based ACAs by WIN Television, interviewing Gordon Ramsay, Today Tonight, national ratings, Eddie McGuire, and her future.

13 Responses

  1. Nine should definately give Tracey something like 60 Minutes to do,something that matches her abilities. She really seems to be slumming it on ACA and I agree with a previous poster that she does keep it from being as trashy as TT,that plus it’s slightly higher tone but that’s more to do with Nine being a classier act in general then Seven.

    And I too miss her on Today,her and Steve were great hosts,no disrespect to Karl and Lisa who I like but it’s not the same.

  2. Nice interview.

    Tracy certainly defends the programme well, and she does have some very valid points. I’ve never had a problem with the stories of persons coming to these shows to get help, but the other consumer stuff and cross-promotion is just terrible.

  3. There is so much unintelligent material on commercial networks. Programs like Big Brother are bad but in their defencse they never pretended to be anything else. But when commerical current affair shows masquerade as hard hitting journalism programs, that is the real rot.

  4. I too was upset when Tracy left the Today Show. I feel sorry for her having to host such a light weight shocker like ACA (Today tonight is no better). I also agree that the current affair programs need to lift the audience up to their level, not be dragged down to the viewers’ level. The commercial networks have fed the audience so much junk that unfortunately they can no longer recognise quality. I honestly believe a quality mix of hard hitting journalism can work on commercial TV . 60 Minutes delivered well researched segments for many years before they became a clone of A Current Affair, e.g the p*rn story a few weeks back – embarrassing. Take a look at some of the stories on dateline – thought provoking but importantly entertaining as well). You don’t need “aussie battler” stories to bring in an audience.

  5. TT and ACA rate so well due to lack of options at 6.30. Nothing else to watch. Unfortnuately trashy appeals to so many of the population – which promts one to think: if both ACA and TT lift their game and put on decent and real news and current affairs stories then they’d still work well as again there are no options!

  6. Not often do I blame viewers as opposed to the networks, but I still can’t understand why people watch the trash stories on TT and ACA, and with such huge retention from the news, particularly for TT (although they might have just left the tv on, who knows). Perhaps, contrary to what Tracey said, they need to be the change, and people will follow. I’m sure people will eventually think that they would rather watch a story that is actually interesting and in the headlines than something about a dodgy landlord or other non-news stories. If it can work for ABC i’m sure it can work for the commercial networks. If they did that, then i would watch, but nowadays i avoid them wherever i can. Be the point of difference.

  7. I’ve met Tracy briefly before, and I found her to be warm, friendly, professional and genuine – exactly what she conveys on screen. There’s no acting there whatsoever, unless you count the way she blends a few of her own words into what is being spat out of the autocue. Sometimes I think ACA is beneath her, but mostly I think she’s what’s keeping ACA from looking more like Today Tonight. I can’t wait to hear what she says tomorrow!!

  8. Congrats David on getting an interview with Tracy Grimshaw! Can’t wait for part two tomorrow.

    I will admit that after watching Tracy on the Today show for all those years I was disappointed when she moved across to ACA. I feel that she is really being wasted there and I am glad to hear her disdain at some of the stories she has introduce.

    Someone with her experience and integrity belongs on 60 Minutes not on this joke of a current affairs program.

    Whilst 90 percent of the stories are not worth watching I will admit there are still some gems amongst the pebbles. With stories like Ben Fordham’s a day in the life of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Tracy’s interviews there may be hope for this program after all.

  9. that wa a remarkably candid interview I have to say, shes so much better than that shit shes hosting….Nine would be well served moving her off to 60 minutes and bringing in Karl Stefanovic to take on Matt White next year

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