ACA planning more Tracy Grimshaw interviews in 2018
A Current Affair producer wants more interviews in 2018 such as Tracy Grimshaw grilling Don Burke.
If A Current Affair executive producer Steve Burling has his way, Tracy Grimshaw will be doing more powerhouse interviews this year.
Grimshaw’s interviewing skills are arguably the Nine show’s best asset, attracting broad attention and even a Walkley Award. Burling, who took charge of the show in January, wants to see more featured interviews such as the headline-grabber last year in which she grilled disgraced TV gardener, Don Burke.
“Don Burke was probably one of the interviews of 2017. We don’t get the opportunity to do something as meaty as that frequently. That being said there will be a hell of a lot more Tracy Grimshaw this year,” he tells TV Tonight.
“I would really like to see her tent-pole the programme at least once a month with a big feature story, where we have invested a lot of time. It reminds the audience she is really the best at what she does.
“Realistically she is popping out a nightly news and current affairs programme, so I don’t want to steal her away for 3 or 4 days at a time. But we will do it if it’s required. It’s a balance.”
“The perception is we target low-brow”
While one-on-one interviews attract praise ACA also comes in for its share of criticism, with consumer-based stories around supermarket wars and shopping guides. Burling says the biggest misconception wth the show is the ‘tabloid tag.’
“We do cold-case murders to community-based issues to health. These are stories that affect middle Australia but the perception is we target low-brow. I don’t think it’s reality. Sometimes people who haven’t watched the programme in 3 or 4 years might be a bit dismissive of it. But if you’ve watched in the last 6 – 12 months it’s not indicative of the show itself,” he maintains.
“We do (consumer stories) because people want to see them. We get the minute-by-minutes each day so we can see if something is working. It isn’t paid content. We do it because people are interested in it.
“Is Amazon working? Can I get a good deal? Health insurance, petrol prices…. We will never dominate a whole programme with consumer-based issues but peppering a couple through the week is pretty sensible.
“It is hip pocket and infotainment, but we get a strong reaction from it.”
Red light cameras and road rage are another staple of the genre, but Burling says they have become so commonplace that footage needs to be dramatic.
“In terms of doing dodgy speed cameras or something, it needs to be fairly ‘speccy’ or fresh,” he continues.
“The worry is it has to be more and more extraordinary each time. Everyone has seen dashcam vision endlessly these days.”
His day begins with a 6:45am conference call working towards the evening show. Discussions surround story ideas on a ‘chase’ list, an ‘in production’ list and another for stories ‘ready to go.’ Story sources include newspapers from across the country, radio and items pitched by bureau chiefs, producers and journos.
“We have a rotating list of same-day reporters. So if it’s something we feel we need on any given night that person is in early in the morning, ready to go out and attack it. All of our senior reporters, and some of our juniors, are pitching additional stories. It’s not just the bureau chiefs in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane saying ‘Here’s something in the papers, go out and do this,” he explains.
“Our guys have good contacts themselves and have their ear to the ground.”
“Now everyone is so News-savvy”
Since following a 1 hour news bulletin 4 years ago, the challenge becomes offering unique content.
“In the days of Willesee there were 30 minute News packages, no afternoon or mid-morning News. So it was an opportunity to slow the pace down and get into some political discussions.
“Now everyone is so News-savvy, either from network television or online, there is a hell of a lot of content out there if you go looking for it. So the challenge for ACA is how can we distinguish ourselves just from News?”
ACA consistently wins its timeslot nationally, but no longer screens head to head with Today Tonight in Adelaide and Perth.
“Both Adelaide and Perth have been gratifying this year. I’m sure there is a bump from Married at First Sight at the tail end of our programme, which doesn’t hurt,” Burling admits.
“They are massive opportunities for us. If you are that far behind Seven and all of a sudden you pick up another 50,000 – 60,000 viewers in 2 markets then you are up to 900,000 in metro, which is about 1.2m nationally.”
‘The brand has moved on from the issues of Ben last year”
Last year however, the show made news itself when Nine offices were raided and reporter Ben McCormack was arrested on child porn charges. After frontline work on the Hey Dad story, it was an unexpected and lingering saga. McCormack was given a 3 year good behaviour bond and $1000 fine in December.
“I certainly believe the brand has moved on from the issues of Ben last year,” says Burling.
“The big concern for me was the staff themselves, who obviously have known Ben for a number of years and were hurt personally by how it all played out. I can say knowing a lot of them, that I feel we have moved on.
“We had a great finish to the year which drew a line on some of the issues from earlier in the year. 2018 we are ready to go.”
A Current Affair airs 7pm weeknights on Nine.