When Lachlan Murdoch, James Packer fired 10 boss Grant Blackley…

A new biography reveals how young billionaires fired a network CEO and took on the running of a television station.

In 2011 Lachlan Murdoch became interim CEO of Network 10 after Grant Blackley was fired by the board.

It was an unexpected role for the board member and shareholder that would last around twelve months.

During this time he oversaw a review of costs which resulted in the axing of television programs and staff redundancies, the hiring of James Warburton and NZ broadcaster Paul Henry in a bold move with the short-lived Breakfast.

Shows commissioned around this era included Young Talent Time, The Shire, I Will Survive, Being Lara Bingle, Everybody Dance Now (hosted by Sarah Murdoch) but also The Living Room and Puberty Blues.

Now a new book, The Successor: The High-Stakes Life of Lachlan Murdoch by Paddy Manning, details on how the young Packer & Murdoch told Blackley he was no longer in control of the network.

One of the Ten board’s first announcements was that the serving head of television, Grant Blackley, would become chief executive. Ten had always been the edgier, youth-­oriented network, partly as a result of FOX TV shows like The Simpsons, but only months earlier the board and Blackley had approved a new strategy to focus on an audience of ‘grown-­ups’ who would be attracted by investment in serious news and current affairs programming. The hope was that Ten’s existing younger audience would migrate to a new digital multi-­channel, Eleven. But the billionaires on the board, all staunchly conservative, faced a problem: the network’s young audience skewed progressive. James, Lachlan and Gina wanted to give News Corp’s star right-­wing Herald ­Sun columnist Andrew Bolt his own show. The Bolt Report was duly launched on a Sunday morning, to abysmal ratings. The ideologically motivated billionaires were going against the grain.

Packer and Murdoch decided Blackley was part of the problem. Packer invited him out on his boat, cruising round Sydney Harbour on a Friday evening. Effectively held captive, Blackley was subjected to a withering tirade from Packer, dressed in his swimming costume, about what was going wrong at Ten. ‘Why don’t you try listening?’ Lachlan chimed in, as Blackley attempted a feeble defence of a strategy which had been signed off by the previous board and which he was faithfully implementing. There was nothing he could say to save himself: Blackley was sacked, effective immediately.

Just as surprising, Ten announced that, at the ‘unanimous request of the board’, Lachlan would become interim chief executive while a replacement was sought. To many who knew Lachlan, this was completely out of character – he had always aspired to the role of non-­executive chairman, a strategic role that would leave him free to pursue other interests. Now, he would be wholly responsible for the day-­to-­day operations of a 24/7 television station: sales, programming, management, the lot. His only previous TV experience was a few years overseeing (but not managing) News Corp’s network of Fox-­affiliate stations in the United States, a job that mainly involved dealing with the owners, who actually ran the stations.

Blackley has been CEO  & Managing Director  at Southern Cross Austereo since 2015.

The Successor: The High-Stakes Life of Lachlan Murdoch is published by BlackInc Books today.

One Response

  1. Terrific read David. As a TV fan, it hurts a lot for 10 in 2011. When L Murdoch took over 10, I was concerned. And he replaced Blackley as ceo because Murdoch was worried about his share. He took away one Hd as sports channel as it was a real threat to fox sports. When this happened, I was annoyed. They had a refreshed on air look for One & was a downgrade. This came when Murdoch announced he will pull out of afl bidding rights for 2012-16. After 10 exited AFL, many callers parted ways to various networks (however Quarters survived at 10 in 2012).
    Next they cut local weekend news in favour of a 90 min weekend bulletin from Sydney studios. I was wondering how could Channel 10 compete with 7 & 9 in News? They’ve lost a news readers in 2011, 2012 and 2014. Ten News presenter, Craig smart left the Perth news in 2012 after spending nearly 2 years. I was very shocked about his axing.

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