Leila faces tor­rid Af­fair

Leila McKinnon is used to gos­sip sur­round­ing her move­ments at Nine, writes Dar­ren Devlyn

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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.’’

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