A Current Affair: All just good theatre

ACA13_0159It’s been 5 years since TV Tonight last interviewed Tracy Grimshaw at length.

Since that time she has picked up a Walkley Award for interviewing and A Current Affair has risen in the ratings, winning the year in Total People numbers in its timeslot, nationally.

Grimshaw has spent 8 years hosting ACA and 32 years with Nine and with the network acquiring Perth and Adelaide stations, it seems the only way is up.

“I’m a pretty happy camper,” she admits. “I really like the people I work with, I like the interviews I get to do here. So I’m a pretty chilled sort of girl.

“It’s been a gratifying reward for a lot of hard work by a lot of people here. We’ve got a very dedicated team and they’re lovely to work with. We’ve just kept our heads down and our bums up all these years, plugging away, trying to do it right and really listening.

“I think it’s got a lot to do with what your viewers tell you. We’re very receptive to all the feedback we get from them now and we get plenty because we’re active now on social media. Our viewers have lots of forums by which to tell us whether we’re getting it right or getting it wrong and we’re really sensitive to that and very reactive.

“I really believe it’s proven the difference to us. We just keep tailoring the show to what people want.

“The sort of stories we do are reflective of what they tell us. When we do a story they like, they tell us. So we think ‘We’ll expand on that.’ So really when you watch the show, pretty much that’s what our viewers are telling us they like.”

So what are ACA viewers telling her? According to Grimshaw, it’s about solving household problems and fighting the big guys in the corporate and utilities world. The show proudly stands up for the little guy.

“For several years now people have always been concerned about how to maximise their budget, they care about those stories. If we do those stories the right way and we give them the information they need then they watch,” she says.

“They like having help about how to run their lives, how to manage their lives in this big, demanding hurly-burly world, so we give them that.

“I think that it’s probably been reflective in the figures this year.

“In many ways I think we’re an unofficial ombudsman. And even though we might only be able to help one person if they’re being done over by their bank or their telco, or something like that, I think it gives other people heart when they see that you don’t necessarily have to be run over by bureaucracy. You can actually find a voice and get a result. So that’s been our stock in trade for a long time, I think.

“People think ‘I’m just one little person, how can I take on a bank or insurance company? How do I take on a telco when they’ve given me a $30,000 phone bill when there’s no way I spent that and they’re not listening to me?’

“If they come to A Current Affair and we can turn it around for them, then they feel like they have a voice.”

Sometimes ACA doesn’t even need to get involved in a case in order to get an outcome.

“I’ve had people tell me they threaten to call A Current Affair when they’re having problems with these kinds of organisations and sometimes it gets a result. Well that’s just fantastic! Once upon a time you’d call the Ombudsman but good luck with that. Those government organisations do great work but they’re usually overrun.”

But the show also comes in for its fair share of criticism too. There’s a weighted focus on “Exclusives” and an increase in the number of stories built around feuding neighbours and brawls caught on closed circuit cameras.

Is this also what viewers are asking to see? And why so many?

“We probably get a spate of them largely because we put some to air and then you have people watching who say ‘We’ve got this in our street.’ So our producers might look at it and think, ‘This is extraordinary, the fight that’s going on in this street,'” she explains.

“There’s a domino effect because after the stories we say ‘If you have a story you think we should know about, let us know.’

“I would say to you it’s not a decision by our producers to sit down and say ‘We’re going hard on feuding neighbours for a while.’ It’s just a knock on effect.

“Having said that I was at the local shopping centre not so long ago at the butcher’s and a young guy who must have been in his 20s said ‘I love all those feuding neighbours.’

“I’m used to people telling me they love it when we take on the banks and telcos, I’m used to that,” she concedes. “So I asked him ‘Why do you love the feuding neighbours?’

“And he said, ‘It’s just good theatre, ay?’

“So I thought, ‘Ok, it’s got a market.’

“I just look at those stories and think ‘God how could you live like that?’ Home is supposed to be a sanctuary. I see home as a place of peace and quiet, where you feel safe and protected.

“I look at some of those stories and think ‘I reckon those people like a stoush. They wouldn’t know what to do if it was peaceful.'”

While ‘ombudsman’ style stories have an outcome, I can’t help but wonder what’s the bigger picture in so many stories where empty vessels are making the most noise?

“I don’t know that every story has an agenda,” she suggests. “We’re not here to preach to people. We’re here to hold up a mirror to how people are living their lives rather than sitting on high and saying “Tut, tut, tut, you musn’t do this.’ But I suppose if you want to look for a benefit in stories like those, people might see they are going down a path like that, see where they might end up and potentially pull back. I don’t know.”

Grimshaw often defends that ACA isn’t made for her, but what are the stories she enjoys the most?

“The ones I love seeing go to air is where we do those rescue renovations where we help people,” she says.

“We renovated the home of Bryson Anderson’s family, who was the police officer who was killed on the job.

“He was an exemplary police officer with a wonderful young family. We pulled together something like 200-300 tradies and renovated his house in a week.

“They’re lovely stories to do and they’re not necessarily going to change the world. There’s not a underlying message other than everybody felt good at the end of it.

“If you were to ask me what was a trend I’d say that despite the young butcher wanting feuding neighbours, I think our viewers want a feelgood story. They want an escape from the daily grind. I think people come home from the end of the day and they’re a bit exhausted and I think they would like to be a bit inspired or a bit uplifted.”

Her feature interviews have attracted plenty of positive comments, rightly deserved. Interviews with Matthew Johns, Simon Cowley and Nick D’Arcy landed her a Walkley Award in 2009. This year a Dawn French interview was so popular, producers went back to the footage to piece together a second story.

“I knew it would be great but I didn’t realise she’d be spectacularly great or as generous as she was. We all walked out of that room with big smiles on our faces,” she admits.

“I interviewed Kyle Sandilands, and I don’t think you could say he’s as broadly popular as Dawn French, but he has a massive fan base. I think he’s a softer guy now. He’ll never admit it but I think he’s a softer guy as a result of the trouble he’s been in over the years.

“I think that was reflected in the interview and that also got a very big audience.”

Part 2: Tracy Grimshaw on the challenge to win Perth & Adelaide, Helen Kapalos in the media firing line, her daily routine, favourite TV shows and keeping a private life private.

8 Comments:

  1. Her responses are quite candid really. At least she’s not trying to pass it off as a credible current affairs show. The key to success in TV is knowing your audience, these guys sound like they have theirs worked out pretty well.

  2. daveinprogress

    I’ve always thought Tracy Girmshaw deserves better, but the lady knows what she is presenting, but some nights I wonder what she really thinks of what she is introducing…. ‘Just good theatre…’
    So is Jerry Springer, actually they’re both bad theatre, and doesn’t make it right or helpful. I loved her on Today, Tracy was a very engaging and inteligent presence as well as a darn good journalist. Alas, little of that is now used on screen.

  3. jezza the first original one

    ACA……mmmm…..It gets good solid regular ratings, it has its place and its audience. However anyone with a functioning brain cell will fully understand that 90plus per cent of its content is pure garbage masquerading as some sort of journalism.

    Nice to have an interview with Tracey, she has a good gig on this show, but that is about where the compliments end…..

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