Still time for 60 Minutes
CRITICS and viewers don’t always see eye to eye. That’s never been more evident than with reaction to 60 Minutes this year.
60 Minutes’ many vocal critics, including some of its former reporters, have been quick to write off the 30-year-old show as little more than low-brow, Channel 9 cross-promotion and chequebook journalism.
A report on a father-daughter couple’s relationship and an expletive-ridden interview with Nine’s celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay led to a barrage of criticism.
But this did little to turn viewers off. If anything, the show’s ratings have strengthened, reaching 1.9 million people last month.
Nine news and current-affairs director John Westacott — and until last year 60 Minutes executive producer — says criticism of the show is nothing new.
‘‘The program has been criticised since it started,’’ he says of the show, which he joined 16 years ago. ‘‘I’d be more concerned if they were not talking about it.
‘‘Its demise has been predicted by some media outlets for 30 years. Clearly viewers think differently, which has been demonstrated very clearly this year.
‘‘The secret success of the show is it’s moved with the generations.
‘‘It’s a joy to see that the audience at the moment covers the complete spectrum, from the baby boomers right through to the teens.
‘‘It’s a successful show by being relevant, providing news in a way that’s evolved with its audience. It’s creative storytelling and it has the advantage of having the best practitioners in the business working on it.’’
Unlike many shows given a rest during the Olympics, Nine showed its faith by leaving 60 Minutes on air. And it has held its own in the ratings.
Westacott is not concerned about Seven’s decision to put Dancing with the Stars on the Sunday-night schedule to dent Nine’s ratings.
60 Minutes has already seen off competition from Ten’s Big Brother and Seven’s Battle of the Choirs this year.
‘‘More than 200 programs have gone up against 60 Minutes over the years. Some have made our eyes water and no doubt some will in future,’’ Westacott says.
‘‘We will survive whatever the fashion of the day throws at us, as we have time and time again.’’
Westacott says 60 Minutes is the only program in Australia that still covers international stories from a local perspective.
‘‘Four Corners doesn’t travel like it used to,’’ he says.
Westacott says the recent resignations of heavy-hitters Jana Wendt, Ray Martin, Mike Munro and Ellen Fanning from Nine are part of the natural cycle of any newsroom and not a sign of disharmony.
‘‘It’s more generational change,’’ Westacott says.
‘‘Nine has always had a strong stable of people and, if you will pardon the pun, that’s been stable now for some time. What we are experiencing is natural generational changes and we need to establish the next generation of equally talented people.
‘‘There have certainly been major budget constraints. That’s the nature of commercial TV these days.
‘‘It’s something we all face, especially with new competition from the internet and pay-TV.’’
Despite this, Westacott believes Nine news and current affairs are still the best in the country.
‘‘The Today Show has improved now it’s returned to being a news show,’’ he says.
‘‘Competition is good as long as you’re winning — and we are.’’
John Westacott is leading the news charge.