Peter Mitchell has notched up 30 years in television and nearly eight in the newsreader’s chair, writes Siobhan Duck
YOU can try all you like, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in TV who’ll bag Peter Mitchell. Mitchell has clocked up 30 years in a notoriously cut-throat business, but he’s somehow managed to reach the milestone without ruffling feathers.
It’s some achievement when you consider there have been times his future in the Channel 7 newsreading chair appeared anything but assured.
When he replaced David Johnston as the weeknight news anchor at the end of 2000, Channel 9 was steamrolling Channel 7 in the ratings. Mitchell faced constant speculation, often fuelled by people within his own network, that he was also for the chop.
The turning point came in 2005 when Nine’s winning margin was reduced to fewer than 100,000 viewers.
‘‘They could easily have given me the boot. Thankfully, Seven elected to not make more changes (to the news line-up). That was after strong advice to stop chopping and changing,’’ Mitchell says.
Seven Melbourne news director Steve Carey says Mitchell is a big reason for Seven’s recent news resurgence.
‘‘He’s a huge part of it. Mitch has grown into the job. He’s an old style newsman. In the field, he’s unbeatable and I respect the man’s ability to have an input into the bulletin,’’ Carey says.
It isn’t the first time Mitchell has had to overcome the doubters. Twenty years ago he went through a similar trial when people warned him against joining Seven.
Mitchell says people told him he was crazy to leave Nine’s newsroom, then the outright leading news network and where he had worked as a general news and sports reporter since 1977, to become Seven’s weekend newsreader in 1988.
Now Seven, television’s news bridesmaid for so many years, is beating Nine in the ratings game. With less than a week of 2008’s official ratings to go, Seven’s weeknight news has averaged 395,224 viewers in Melbourne to Nine’s 375,001.
‘‘It’s particularly great because it’s been a long time coming,’’ Mitchell says of the rating success.
‘‘It’s great for all the people at Seven who have been there a lot longer than me. Everyone has been walking around with smiles on their faces.’’
Mitchell says the media has always been keen to put a personal face on the ratings rivalry between Seven and Nine.
To them, it’s Peter Mitchell v Peter Hitchener — Mitch v Hitch — but Mitchell insists he gets on very well with Nine’s weeknight news anchor.
He jokes that he boasted during a speech at a local school of plotting to let down Hitchener’s car tyres.
‘‘It’s not really Mitch v Hitch. We get on well when I see him at functions,’’ he says.
Despite Mitchell’s eagerness to share credit for the climbing ratings, there is no question that he is a large part of Seven’s current news success.
The closest to criticism Mitchell has come was from Nova 100’s Kate Langbroek, who took exception to a wry remark about Sex & the City made by the veteran newsreader while delivering a story about the movie.
But Mitchell’s harmless remark — he was perplexed by the series’ popularity with women— is perhaps indicative of something deeper.
He would prefer there to be less emphasis on tabloid favourites Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and more on the important social and political events that are shaping the world.
‘‘It’s important to have a mix (of stories). The entertainment side of things has become more prominent but . . . you have to have balance,’’ he says.
No regrets: Seven news anchor Peter Mitchell doesn’t regret his long-ago move from Nine.