ABC planning secret news-chat show to replace state-based 7.30
New show: Leigh Sales.EXCLUSIVE
The ABC is secretly planning a national news-chat show – inspired partly by commercial programs such as The Project – to replace its state-based editions of 7.30, Fairfax Media can reveal.
The new program would be anchored by 7.30’s national presenter Leigh Sales, with Kitchen Cabinet host Annabel Crabb and comedian Dan Ilic touted as possible co-hosts or guests. It is likely to be produced by Sally Neighbour, 7.30’s executive producer, who is spearheading its development.
But the plan – understood to be a response to the Abbott government’s ABC budget cuts – may anger some viewers, who fear a reduction in localised news and current affairs.
Management is yet to sign off on the axing of the state-based 7.30 programs and sources say its replacement is merely being “discussed as an idea, that’s all … it’s very early days and nothing is certain”.
One source claims senior producers and potential presenters met at least twice this week to discuss the new program’s format, segment ideas and logistical requirements, with further meetings scheduled for next week. It is believed that state-based 7.30 staff and union representatives are unaware of the plan.
But an ABC spokeswoman denied that any meetings had occurred, responding to detailed questions with the statement: “This information is not accurate – no ‘planning workshop’ was held. Any speculation on programming decisions is premature.”
Fairfax Media has obtained, however, an eight-point agenda for a “workshop” that reveals planning is already under way.
The unnamed “Friday show”, if approved, will air in the “7.30 time slot” – currently occupied by the eight state and territory editions of 7.30.
Last month, it was revealed these Friday editions of 7.30 have been placed in the firing line by sweeping cost cutting proposals. The future of Lateline and several ABC radio programs and news bulletins are also in doubt.
Workshop participants were asked to discuss the question: “What can we take from other models, e.g. The Project, The Feed, The Roast, Good News Week, 10.30 show [Lateline] etc?”
The show’s “brand principles” will be “rigour and integrity (but not necessarily deadly serious)”, according to the document.
It will include elements of 7.30, such as federal politics, major political interviews, investigative reporting and feature stories. It will also involve “quirky/funny/human” stories, which one source claims is part of a strategy to appeal to younger viewers.
A live audience, a desk and the “amount of comedy and chat” are also under consideration.
A producer of one of the eight state-based 7.30 programs told Fairfax Media that staff have been kept in the dark.
“This is the first we’ve heard of this,” the producer said. “In the last few weeks [since news of our programs’ possible axing], no one from management or the national program’s Sydney office has been on our morning conference call. So we, the state producers, talk amongst ourselves. No one has been briefed. No one has been invited to take part in any discussion about the future.
“They’ve not played fair with us. They’ve gone very sneakily behind our backs to construct the alternative to us without involving us in any way. I feel comparatively little loyalty to them. I do to the audience, and to the notion of public broadcasting, but not to them.”
The source said that job losses are likely, with “the younger energetic ones” expected to be re-deployed to the new show.
There is also some suspicion that budget cuts are being used as an excuse.
“[The national producers] never liked the Friday night programs because they think that we besmirch the brand,” a source said. “It was an opportune time for them to blame the Abbott government for getting rid of us, which is what they’ve always wanted to do themselves. It’s an uneasy fit, I get that – but it’s never worried the audience. They understand that it’s different on Fridays, that its quirky and parochial. In some markets, it out-rates the national show.
“They can’t argue we’re not popular – but they will.”
Those close to the new concept say there is enthusiasm for it within management, although one said: “It’s by no means a done deal. This is television, where new concepts are discussed all the time and most never get the green light. This is still in the very early stages.”
It is unclear if the show has a tentative launch date.
Another source, however, suggested: “They wouldn’t be workshopping the new show if they weren’t serious about getting rid of [the state editions] of 7.30.”