Still time for 60 Min­utes

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide - SIOB­HAN DUCK

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.’’

We’re winning:

John Wes­ta­cott is lead­ing the news charge.

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