Leila faces torrid Affair
Leila McKinnon is used to gossip surrounding her movements at Nine, writes Darren Devlyn
WHEN Tracy Grimshaw’s on leave, it’s guaranteed TV gossip-mongers will indulge in one of their favourite sports — speculating on who is supposedly gunning for her position as host of Channel 9’s A Current Affair.
A newspaper column last week suggested ‘‘the sharks’’, namely Leila McKinnon and Karl Stefanovic, were already circling Grimshaw’s hosting chair.
The gossip elicited groans from Nine, which has been forced on several occasions this year to hose down rumours — some started by rival networks — that Grimshaw’s days as host are numbered.
There’s no question McKinnon’s status as ACA’s summer fill-in host and wife of Channel 9 chief executive officer David Gyngell make her an easy target for scuttlebutt.
McKinnon (right) has been working with Stefanovic on a pilot Nine hopes will solve its ratings problems in the 5.30pm weekday timeslot. Stefanovic will not be part of the show if Nine gives it the green light, but McKinnon remains open-minded about future involvement.
McKinnon, who next year will report for ACA and What’s Good For You, says: ‘‘These things (rumours about her) come with the territory, but I don’t buy into it. I’m not going after anyone’s job.
‘‘Nine had a lot of glory years and it’s been tougher lately. We’ve been knocked around and everyone is working to get back to where we were. You have to try different things (such as the 5.30pm pilot) and have a go.
‘‘Two or three things are being talked about for next year, but I’ve been in TV long enough to know that you just take it as it goes.’’
McKinnon tackles the ACA fill-in gig aware the show — and its rival on Seven, Today Tonight — are not particularly popular with critics.
Apart from Big Brother, it’s hard to think of shows that in recent years have been so resoundingly panned by media identities and commentators.
Andrew Denton is the latest to have a crack, suggesting the shows are so reprehensible that it would be ‘‘hard to work on them without holding your nose’’.
McKinnon is pragmatic in her response to the barbs. She suspects some of ACA’s harshest critics probably don’t ever watch it. It’s also possible that some of the good done on the show goes unnoticed by critics because all they see are promotions for stories that trade on controversy and outrage to attract viewers.
‘‘I don’t take offence. I respect Denton, I watch his shows. He’s entitled to his opinion,’’ McKinnon says. ‘‘I think the only real problem with ACA is a perception problem.
‘‘Along the line there has been this opportunity for people (to knock it). It doesn’t deserve some of the things said about it. We do some great stories.
‘‘There has been a long campaign (on the show) about the childsupport system, campaigns on petrol prices and the single aged pension. You have to have a mix of stories.’’
McKinnon began her career reporting part-time for The Sunday Telegraph in Brisbane while finish- ing a journalism degree. Her career at Nine began in 1995. She spent three years reporting and presenting for Gold Coast News, then joined ACA in Brisbane. She’s also been newsreader at Today and Nine’s Los Angeles correspondent.
McKinnon has done the hard yards as a reporter and presenter, but is aware she faces deeper scrutiny than her peers because of her marriage.
‘‘I’m not a self-promoter. I just love my job and I’m not particularly ambitious or competitive to get anywhere,’’ she says.
‘‘If my work’s good, I’ll stay here or advance and if it’s not, I won’t. If an opportunity came up for something good I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t a candidate for it because you want to be recognised and respected.
‘‘But I don’t go for publicity. David and I, we don’t go to a lot of functions or live ‘the scene’.’’
McKinnon had mixed emotions when at the end of last year Gyngell decided to leave his job as head of US operations for production giant Granada to return to Sydney for a second stint as Nine chief executive.
McKinnon was at the time ‘‘just loving’’ working in Los Angeles.
‘‘When David decided he wanted to come back I think I was the only person at Nine who was devastated,’’ McKinnon says with a laugh.
‘‘It’s not an ideal situation that both David and I work here, but I was here first! I think sometimes people use it (their marriage) as a weapon to try to embarrass me at work. I’m better at dealing with that now.
‘‘I take a bit of comfort in the fact people can see what I do (performance at work) and they can decide for themselves if I should be here or not or if I’m getting any favours or not.’’