Ray Martin has told the ABC that A Current Affair lost its journalism mojo many years ago.
In an interview with Peter Thompson to air on Talking Heads, Martin admits in his later years as host he found himself questioning some of the stories.
“I used to sit there when I was hosting A Current Affair at times and say ‘Who cares about this story?’ I think the audience is much smarter than we give them credit for,” he says.
“It went from being, I think as being as credible as 7:30 (Report) in the days of Jana, Willesee, and myself to being almost a consumer affairs programme.”
But he laments that interviews with politicians on ACA were a ratings killer.
“You would lose 100,000 in Sydney like that. People just switch off,” he says.
In the one on one interview to air on August 16th, Martin talks about early family years, sleeping at Sydney’s Central Railway station, his alcoholic father, the influence of his mother and older sisters, and the discovery of Aboriginal ancestry in his family. He shares memories of his marriage to wife Dianne, and speaks about his daughter “living the life of an out of work actor” and his son who is studying international relations after being inspired by Barack Obama.
In some 10,000 interviews in his career, Martin highlights talking to Don Bradman, Fred Hollows and Lindy Chamberlain for 60 Minutes.
He also speaks fondly of hosting Midday, which he began hosting from 1985.
“There was nowhere in the world in the 1980s and 90s where you were doing live television, certainly not 90 minutes a day. This was a lunchtime programme that I was told at the time was making about $10m in profit. I did ten years there and it was probably the most enjoyable ten years of my life.”
Martin also admits he has “complained for thirty years the fact that women dictate what Australians watch on television,” a view which seemingly differed to that of legendary network owner Kerry Packer.
“Kerry had a good feeling for what Australia wanted, women and men, and he would let the bosses of the network know. I think that’s changed since Kerry left, since he died, since it was sold by the Packers to a venture capital company,” he said.
“But I think that was the eternal problem; that people were doing it because it was a fiefdom, because it was a private enterprise. I don’t think they really cared about the audience. But somehow they got it right.”
After Packer purchased the Nine Network back from Alan Bond, Martin made the mistake of asking his boss about his future.
Packer retorted, “‘You’re effing future? I don’t know what my effing future is. Why would I give an F about your effing future?'” says Martin. “I got up to leave because I overstayed my welcome and he wrapped this big bear arm around me and said ‘Don’t worry son, you’re alright, we’ll look after you.’ And that was it.”
He also reflects on the career highlights of hosting Carols by Candlelight and the landmark broadcast of the Bicentennial celebrations he co-hosted with Jana Wendt and Clive James.
The Gold Logie winner laughs off suggestions that he could have become an ‘Australian Oprah’, and adds that he would be no good as a radio host.
But he hints at more to come.
“I love to chase stories,” he tells Thompson. “I want to go back to journalism. I want to go back to telling stories and I want go back to doing what I do best and doing what I like best.”
Talking Heads with Ray Martin airs 6:30pm Monday August 16 on ABC1.