In Part 2 of TV Tonight‘s interview with Tracy Grimshaw she talks about 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.
The battle to win 6:30 is an enduring one, but this year A Current Affair managed to topple Today Tonight nationally for the first time since 2004. Having joined the show in 2005, it’s taken a cool 8 years to get in front.
“I do believe this is one of the hardest, if not the hardest-fought timeslot in television,” says Grimshaw. “It probably is the hardest-fought in many ways, and that’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of battlegrounds in television now. Breakfast television is a battleground too now, and it was starting to become that way when in my last few years. But in my first few years at Today it was a little bit off-Broadway. It’s certainly not now, it’s right at the forefront.
“But we’re also an intense, hard-fought timeslot an everybody wants to win it. Every single minute counts and you do have to get it right.”
So where has Nine made inroads into Seven’s market? Grimshaw identifies a shift amongst Queensland viewers.
“For the last couple of years we’ve done very well in Melbourne, I think 2 or 3 years. Clearly we’ve won the year in Sydney and we did last year too, but I think perhaps more definitively this year,” she says.
“Our biggest solidifier, if you like, has been Queensland and that’s testament to the fact that we’ve got a cracking good bureau up there.
“A lot of our stories come out of Queensland and they consistently punch above their weight, in that regard. Queensland viewers have realised that, so that’s gratifying too.”
But while Nine has more weeks won on the East Coast, Seven still dominates in Adelaide and Perth. Now that Nine recently completed ownership of NWS9 and STW9 it is making plans to pick up the slack.
“I’m not in a position to tell you exactly what we’re going to be doing over there, for obvious reasons,” she explains.
“But there will be more resources poured into A Current Affair in Adelaide and Perth because we don’t want those markets to be going to the opposition.
“But it’s challenging. Bearing in mind we’re a national programme and our opposition puts to air 3 programmes each day, one for the Perth market, one for the Adelaide market and one for the East Coast market and we’re trying to suit all of those markets with one programme so that has been a little bit challenging, particularly in terms of the time difference in Perth. We can cover a large story for example, and this is the same challenge for any live national show, you’ll be spruiking something live and it’s genuinely live on the East Coast, but by the time it goes to Perth how do you fix that?”
While locally-produced editions of Today Tonight have included local stories, ACA has had limited content from Adelaide and Perth. There are also challenges in hosting an evening show on location when a 3 hour time difference impacts on daylight.
“We need to do more Perth content, we know that. We’ve tried it in the past, we’ve had Perth bureaus in the past. Now we own the station it’s not going to be as hard to do that,” she says.
“You can’t be going to air when it’s dark here. It was also a challenge when we were doing the Today show of course. We were constantly being asked by our Perth viewers ‘Can you come over here?’ but we’d practically have to be on air after midnight!
“It’s not like (Perth) priorities are very different to people in Tasmania, Ipswich or Hopper’s Crossing. You just have to let them know you’ve got their backs and I think we haven’t been as active over there because we haven’t had as much control, but now we do.”
While ACA is enjoying the lift, it follows changes by Today Tonight to their East Coast presentation with Sharyn Ghidella in Brisbane and Helen Kapalos fronting Melbourne and Sydney editions.
“I’m not going to get into the business of analysing what our opposition did right or wrong. It’s not a time to be high-handed or to gloat. We feel really gratified with the year we’ve had. We think we’ve earned it and we’re enjoying it but at the same time we’ve got several more weeks until the end of the ratings year, so we’re not going to drop the ball,” Grimshaw promises.
TT‘s Helen Kapalos has copped more than her share of media attention, especially for a widely-publicised series of mistakes in June. If news anchors are always at the forefront of audience criticism, how did Grimshaw feel at the time her opposition was coming under fire?
“Helen worked on A Current Affair as a reporter and I’ve known her for quite some time. But I don’t think I should be the kind of person to call her up during all of that. If you take on a job like this you can’t have a glass jaw. You’ve got to have pretty broad shoulders and a teflon hide,” she insists.
“You can’t define yourself by what the media say about you. I’ve had plenty of people take potshots at me over the years and plenty more will line up to do so in the future. You have to know your strengths and weaknesses and not define yourself by whether or not a newspaper has made you their sport of the day. If you make a mistake then you learn from it.
“The truth is the person who hosts the show is the tallest poppy around. We cop the heat, we cop the attention, we sometimes cop the kudos and that’s a nice thing too. But it usually becomes about the person who’s hosting the show no matter what we do.
“Helen’s a pretty tough cookie. She’s not a kid, she’s been around, she knows the way it works. I’d be confident she’d be ok.”
Indeed, being in the media spotlight attention also turns to one’s private life. While Grimshaw is considered a gun at interviews, she is far more discerning about giving them. She readily admits to fiercely protecting her privacy.
“It’s not like I’m a closed book. I think people have a sense of what I do in my private life. But it’s interesting, people use the words ‘private life’ and what they usually mean is ‘Who are you going out with?’ I’ve never talked about who I’m going out with,” she says.
“Beyond who I’m going out with I think people have a pretty clear sense of who I am. They know which city I live in, they know what’s been going on. I think I was fairly open about when I lost my mother. I think that’s pretty big stuff to share with the world. So I hardly think I lock everybody out of what’s going on in my personal life. But I’ve never felt like I have to tell everyone about who I’m going out with and I’m never going to change. In every way I think that’s worked for me.
“I don’t do interviews a lot because I normally keep banging on about the same things all the time. So I generally think if you give a little space between interviews you’e not going to be asked the same questions and you can break new ground in each interview and there can be something to talk about.”
As a journalist Grimshaw prefers to focus on the work rather than the personal, and credibility is integral.
“I’m very aware that for people in my position people need to know enough about me to know that they can trust me,” she says.
“But beyond that I don’t know that I need to satisfy gossipy curiosity.
“Most of what they write is uninformed and people can choose to believe it or not.
“But I never worry about what’s written about me if it’s uninformed. It’s usually some other agenda apart from what you have done.”
She is also active on social media, which for better or worse, attracts both positive and negative feedback.
“I’ve got a pretty thick hide and I think social media has helped with that. The main reason is because I’ve been doing this for 32 years. Usually the people who sit down at their keyboards or are moved to pick up their telephones are usually at the pointy end. They’re at the extreme end of those who have formed an opinion about something you’ve done or said. Most people live in the grey zone where most things wash over them. From my point of view I don’t think you wanting to be investing yourself in the extremist opinions,” she observes.
“I’m on Twitter and everyone knows they can get on their keyboards and tell me whatever they like.
“Somebody famous once said, I can’t remember who, ‘What other people say about me is none of my business.'”
Despite her entrenched position on private life, I ask about a typical day. What’s her routine and what does she read?
“I’ve been a journo for 32 years so you don’t start the day without reading the papers and listening to the radio. I have horses, so I get up and feed them,” she explains.
“I watch the Today show, but I’m pretty active out from about 6 in the morning. But it depends. If I’ve got a big interview on I’ll be cramming for that, or reading a book. I can be Googling until 2:00 in the morning. I’m pretty obsessed when I am preparing for an interview.
“The busiest part of the day (at work) is about 1:30 until when we go to air. Right now because it’s Daylight Saving we do 2 programmes a night. We do a live programme for Queensland at 7:30 AEDT which goes to air at 6:30 into Brisbane.
“It’s not a 9-5 job, it never has been.”
Favourite television shows include an eclectic bunch of titles, some that surprise me.
“I love Australian Story on the ABC. I loved Peter Helliar’s show It’s a Date. I thought it was wonderfully written and his characters were great. I think he’s a huge talent. I absolutely loved The Voice. Completely obsessed. I’ve been watching a bit of AGT and I really like Salty Rain man. I want him to win, he makes me happy when he dances. I also like the guy who does hand shadows,” she laughs.
“I love The Newsroom, I’m just so sorry it’s over. They just don’t make enough episodes for me.
“But my guilty pleasure is Californication, I love it.”
I wrap the interview with an obvious question: will she be back to host ACA in 2014?
“Yes that’s certainly my plan.”
A Current Affair airs 6:30pm weeknights on Nine.