A day in the life of Leigh Sales

19lesSince returning to 7:30 after maternity leave last May, Leigh Sales has been on form.

Interviews with Tony Abbott and John Laws have attracted widespread interest, ratings have lifted, and she was invited to host a ‘Town Hall’ meeting for Hillary Clinton in the US.

The trademark Sales interview appears most nights on 7:30, allowing her to do what she does best. The topics can range wildly in subject matter and Sales can be derided by opinionated Twitter followers -but she relishes the opportunity even when it means getting up to speed very fast.

“It’s sort of like cramming for an exam every day on a different subject. Some subjects are better than others like US politics or foreign policy. But for AFL or NBN or something like that I’m going from a bit of a ‘standing start,'” she says.

“The further the subject is from my area of expertise the harder it makes my day, and the later you get told you’re doing something or if something’s breaking (too).

“We prefer not to lead with an interview because the show opens with me standing, so it’s quite clumsy to lead with an interview from that position.

“Even if we are ostensibly leading with the interview we’ll tend to do a short 1 or 2 minute package just to give me time to go from standing to run around the back of the desk.”

Sales juggles her day with family and work commitments that can begin with her young son as early as 6am.

“I juggle the baby’s breakfast with reading the papers and listening to the radio and then I take him for a walk while I do the conference call (with Exec Producer Sally Neighbour, Chris Uhlman, Producer Justin Stevens and others). We talk about what we’re going to have on the show so you sort of really need to be across everything by 8:30,” she says.

“That usually finishes around 9 and I have an hour until the nanny or daycare at 10. Then I come in and it’s whatever’s required (in preparation).

“I go to make-up about 4:30 and between 4:45 and 6 there are various commitments like promos, voice-overs and housekeeping things. Often I will do an interview pre-recorded if it’s not live.”

From 6pm there are tasks such as editing an interview or finessing story leads with Sally Neighbour.

‘At about 10 past 7 I go back to make-up for a touch up and 7:30 is the show and I’ve got the make-up removal down to a fine art so I’m out the door about 3 past 8!

“My husband does all the baby wrangling at that end of the day so I get home and the baby’s asleep and my dinner is cooked, and it’s all good!”

Her regular morning reads include The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and she listens to AM on ABC, but they are preceded by her attachment to Twitter.

“The first thing I look at is Twitter because the key stories are all aggregated into the one place. If something big has happened it stands out straight away.

“I just don’t have the time every single day to go and check out The Atlantic or The Times of London or The Guardian or whatever.”

She subcribes to Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Women’s Weekly for weekend reading.

“I always get Who Weekly for the plane. But I read the Herald and The Australian every day. I skim the Fin Review every day. But there are people I look out for.”

These include Pam Williams, Laura Tingle and Cameron Stewart.

But despite having 62,000 followers, Sales admits Twitter is a double-edged sword.

“It’s a bit frustrating sometimes because I often do political interviews, and you come off and Twitter is full of vitriol. If you’ve done an interview with Julia Gillard they’re smashing you for going hard, whereas when you give exactly the same treatment to Tony Abbott you’re their hero,” she says.

“It’s quite disheartening, this polarised, vicious tribal nature of some of the politics on Twitter.

“If you’re happy to see me give Tony Abbott a hard time, or Chris Bowen a hard time then that’s the nature of my job.

“Whoever comes to sit opposite me, I’m going to try and find the weak points in their argument and try to put to them criticisms that the other side makes in the aim of getting them to defend their position. So basically I’m pushing the person opposite me as hard as I can to defend where they’re coming from, and that’s how I approach every single interview with a politician whether it’s left, right, green, whatever.

“It’s not my job to get people to move on from something they don’t want to talk about.

“The thing I’ve learned with the Twitter feedback is people see what they want to see.”

I can’t help but ask what advice she would give to those who are about to face-off in a 7:30 interview.

“People find it so annoying when politicians don’t answer the question, so I would say to them try to engage with what you’ve been asked. The audience isn’t dumb. If I ask a pretty basic question they can see straight away that you’re trying to dodge it or shift the goalposts,” she insists.

“I think people sometimes forget when they sit down that it’s not just me that they have to deal with. A million people are forming an opinion as we go.

“The other thing is, obviously, try to be well-prepared. I try to be well-prepared so don’t come on thinking it’s going to be easy. Come on thinking that I’m going to push you as hard as I possibly can.

“Anyone who has watched me knows that I like to come out with a very big punch straight away. I like the disarming hard questions straight off the top. I don’t tend to ease people in. I’ve seen a few guests been taken aback by the opening question. Often I’m more blunt, or direct, or rude than I would be in real life.”

This approach, she insists, is driven by time constraints and not from any character trait in her personal life. But she does recall a time when her husband told her she was just like her own mother. Her auto-pilot kicked in.

“Straight away I went into 7:30 mode. I said ‘What do you mean I’m exactly like her? Give me some examples of how I’m exactly like her.’

“He was trying to back-pedal and I was not allowing him to back-pedal!”

The John Laws interview last October attracted great attention, with the veteran radio broadcaster attempting to defend Alan Jones. Sipping on a glass and seemingly flirting with Sales it was one of the year’s oddest television moments.

“I could see him there with a glass of bourbon and I was thinking ‘Please don’t let the camera crew tell him to put it down.’ To their great credit they let him keep that. There were battleships from Garden Island in the background, it was just fantastic,” she recalls.

Having learned what Sales reads I am curious to know what TV she watches. I get some surprising answers.

“I don’t tend to watch any Free to Air live, I iQ everything. But I absolutely love Shaun Micallef’s Mas as Hell,” she says.

“I loved Girls, but the second season was patchy and a bit inconsistent.

“I watch a lot of stuff on box sets. I thought The Bridge was fantastic. We’re addicted to Survivor and we’ve watched every season. Survivor for me is like politics with all the boring bits taken out. It’s the most political show on telly and I think Jeff Probst is a genius. Awesome anchor. I’m rooting for Malcolm this time.

“And my guilty pleasures, I absolutely love It’s A Brad, Brad World and The Rachel Zoe Project.

“That fashion world is so far off my daily world that I find it fascinating. I love looking at the way they photograph stuff and the beautiful clothes, the way they’re shot and the way they style people.

“It’s on a Thursday night, that’s the end of my working week. I come home with a glass of wine and it’s such well-produced trash I can kick back and watch!”

Other personal favourites include The Sopranos (“a flawless bit of TV”), Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights and she is hoping to catch up with Prisoners of War.

“I’m making it sound like we watch a lot of telly, but actually we don’t.”

Of course not. After all there is another interview to cram for tomorrow…

7:30 airs weeknights on ABC1.

8 Comments:

  1. Sales is spot on about the 7:30 Twitter feed-people see what they want to see-and that’s the nature of political tribalism as she has said. The comments are generally very partisan and are often aimed at the presenters, Uhlmann and Sales, with assumptions made about their political allegiances, as if they couldn’t possibly be objective. Surprised that she’s a Survivor fan and her analysis of the show is an interesting take, I hadn’t thought of it in political terms before. Great interview David, aided by the fact that Leigh is so candid about her interviewing techniques and viewing preferences. It adds another dimension to her on air persona.

  2. @Mr JimboJones, Sales is a good. As oppossed to ‘cash for comment’ John Laws, Alan ‘The Parrot’ Jones. And she nailed Abbout for what he is.Phoney.
    Watched Turnbull/Abbout alternative Internate presentation on ABC Insiders. [watch Turnbull squirm.] Google iview if you missed it And to think this ignoramus may hold office come election time.
    Good Luck.

  3. What a fantastic feature interview! You can’t read this sort of stuff in traditional media anymore and it’s why sites like TV Tonight are growing and growing in popularity. It’s why we also Leigh Sales as well! Great to see the public broadcaster showing having a woman front a primetime current affairs problem that tackles serious subjects and does hard long form political interviews can rate. A credit to all involved.

  4. Love Leigh!
    Her opening questions of interviews are priceless.
    To Julia Gillard the night of the aborted K-Rudd coup
    “Thanks for joining us, Prime Minister. Tell me why Australians should vote Labor in September when your government is clearly a dysfunctional mess” – Zing!

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