George ‘Negusised’ to 6:30
With more than 30 years in current affairs George Negus won't read a script that hasn't been 'Negusised', a term of his own volition.
George Negus starts most days at home by getting up to speed on overnight news before making his way to TEN’s Pyrmont Studios for meetings with the team at 6:30.
“I start the day by making sure I know what’s going on around me. Some of it’s national, international, print, non-print, online, and I have my own sources. I deliberately make sure my sources aren’t the same as everybody else so I’ve got something fresh to add. Then I talk to (Producer) Tony Ritchie before everybody gets together,” he explains.
“It becomes a mix of ideas from everywhere and sorts itself out until about midday and then it changes again because sometimes we’re involved in running stories. So we have a reservoir of stories with a longer shelf life.
“By about 2:00 usually over finger food, not lunches, people start feeding me the introductions to their scripts and I ‘Negusise’ –that’s a term that sits in Australian television.”
Negus, a veteran of over 30 years in news and current affairs, is famous for talking about himself as a brand. But with his colloquial manner and sense of humour it’s hard not to let him. After all, this is the bloke who riled Maggie Thatcher right?
So what does Negusise mean?
“It means I take on what some other poor bastard has written and hope I might say on television and then turn it into what I would say,” he says.
“And there are a lot of people on Australian television who will laugh their heads off when they realise ‘Oh shit I’ve been Negusised again!’
“What you hear and what you see is me, for better or worse. So I can’t blame anybody else. I just don’t read autocues and scripts somebody else has written. Never have, not about to start.
“Newsreaders and some current affairs presenters are just given the script to read, but I don’t.
“Why hire Negus and have Negus telling somebody else’s clichés when he’s got his own?”
Yes Negus is indeed big on ‘brand Negus’, and so is TEN which moved 6PM with George Negus to 6:30 with George Negus last night. Back in the 6:30 timeslot (where ABC’s George Negus Tonight last aired in 2004) he is taking A Current Affair and Today Tonight head on.
But the former Dateline host isn’t especially drawn on the lack of success at 6pm, the war at 6:30pm or the unrest in TEN management. He just wants to get on with journalism.
“I see (the switch to) 6:30 being an observation of the market and a reaction to it. I would have expected them to do something like that. I personally was not hired to do a programme of this kind at 6pm. I was hired to do a programme of this kind,” he says.
“Television management is television management and television journalism is television journalism. They do what they do, and I do what I do, and I’ve successfully navigated my way through the television landscape for 30 odd years with that attitude.”
Negus joined TEN’s news revamp under former CEO Grant Blackley, before new shareholders James Packer, Gina Rinehart and acting CEO Lachlan Murdoch moved in. Since its January launch the show has struggled to reach 400,000 viewers a night at 6pm but Negus says a lot of the negativity towards its performance was encouraged by competitors.
“There are people out there somewhere in television land, and you don’t have to be a genius to work out who, who would have probably have preferred a programme like this never to have come into existence,” he says.
“So how do I feel? Quite frankly, too busy doing it to think about that.
“I’ve had ABC managers disappearing off the face of the earth, I’ve had Channel Nine changes. It’s not foreign territory to me.”
But he also admits that during the period of change he is yet to have a conversation with Murdoch about his programme.
“Lachlan has transmitted messages to me, he’s a busy man. I’ve been directly acquainted with Lachlan’s views and I’m not bothered by anything he’s said,” he says.
“He and I have made several attempts. But each time we make attempts to get together over a meal something happens.”
Instead he works directly with producer Tony Ritchie, TEN’s Head of News Jim Carroll and Programming Chief David Mott. In the daily grind of television production talent isn’t necessarily privvy to the musings of a CEO.
“I know they deal with Lachlan and others.”
The first show in the new timeslot looked at chilldcare, corporate wars between supermarket giants, the impact of floods on reptiles, grassroots ALP membership, rioting due to the burning of the Koran, swimmer Te Haumi and an interview with Hamish Macdonald. It’s a change from diets, bra stories and parking fines.
But the mark of any good current affairs show is surely in breaking news stories, not merely reacting. Does Negus anticipate the re-tooled News department to be delivering stories that resonate in the wider media?
“It will happen. If you’re doing your job it will happen, it already has happened. We scooped everybody because of an interview I did with Chris Bowen about the kids from Christmas Island. Tony Windsor told me last week he might switch sides if Malcolm Turnbull became Leader of the Opposition again,” he insists.
“If a programme knows where it’s headed and knows what it’s priorities are, my experience has been that will happen without people concocting a way of breaking a story. But if a scoop turns up I won’t knock it back.”
But he’ll probably Negusise it.
6:30 with George Negus airs weeknights at 6:30 on TEN.