The Nine Network has announced the axing of two of its long-running news and current affairs programs – Sunday and Nightline.
The axing of Sunday perhaps came as no real surprise. The program has been the subject of rumours for some time, particularly since the departure of host Jana Wendt and the show’s change in direction to tackle the more casual format of Seven‘s Weekend Sunrise which was dominating the timeslot. The situation for Sunday was not helped when Nine stalwart Ray Martin (pictured), who was appointed the show’s new co-host last year, resigned from the program just days before it was due to resume for 2008 in the earlier timeslot of 7.30am.
The demise of Sunday brings to an end a program with a proud history although it had plenty of critics when it began in November 1981. The show’s emphasis on quality journalism, investigative reporting, international current affairs and long-form stories were a far cry from the usual commercial TV style of current affairs and the timeslot – 9.00am Sunday – was also one that was largely unknown territory for current affairs programming. Most other channels at the time of the week were either showing test patterns or children’s programs or religious content.
But in initiating the program, Nine saw the program as the perfect vehicle for attracting the higher-income viewers who did not traditionally watch commercial television – hence Sunday would be capturing a market that no other commercial TV program was aiming at, and could therefore charge a premium for advertisers in what was traditionally a low-revenue timeslot. Quality viewers as opposed to quantity. This strategy was later picked up by other networks with programs such as Meet The Press (Network Ten).
Sunday continued for around twenty years with original host Jim Waley (pictured) at the helm, and along with National Nine News, 60 Minutes, A Current Affair, Nightline and Today was a steady contributor to Nine’s image as the news leader – and with the support of network owner Kerry Packer, who often regarded Sunday as his ‘baby’, the program was protected from the usual pressures of ratings as the goal was to provide quality reporting and viewers. The efforts of Sunday were reflected in the program winning a number of awards, both in Australia and overseas, for journalistic excellence.
In 2002, Waley was moved to reading Sydney’s National Nine News after the retirement of veteran newsreader Brian Henderson. In Waley’s place at Sunday was a familiar name to the Nine Network, Jana Wendt (pictured) – the former ‘perfumed steamroller’ of 60 Minutes and A Current Affair, returning to Nine after several years as host of rival SBS‘ international current affairs program Dateline.
The passing of Kerry Packer and changes in management saw a period of unrest for Sunday. The show was now no longer seen as a protected species despite its strategic positioning, and was also coming under attack from the Seven Network which had expanded its popular Sunrise format to Sunday mornings. The launch of ABC‘s Sunday morning current affairs program Insiders also provided a potent competitor. Sunday no longer had the monopoly on viewers in that timeslot.
By 2006, Wendt had departed the program following failed negotiations with management over her role in the revamped budget-slashed Sunday. In her place was former 60 Minutes reporter Ellen Fanning with finance journalist Ross Greenwood. The new-look program was seen as an attempt to downgrade the show to a position somewhere in between the Sunday of old, and the light-hearted Weekend Sunrise on Seven. Greenwood was later replaced by Ray Martin, perhaps as a band-aid measure to try and restore some of the show’s credibility as a serious current affairs outlet. But since Martin’s resignation from Nine early this year, Fanning has fronted the program solo. The program, now moved to the earlier 7.30am timeslot, has since failed to regain any of its ratings status, continuing to be out-rated by its Seven rival.
The final edition of Sunday goes to air on Nine on 3 August. The program will be replaced by a one-hour news bulletin Sunday Morning News which will incorporate news and sports coverage with political analysis from one of Sunday‘s most enduring presenters, political commentator Laurie Oakes (pictured).
The demise of late-night news bulletin Nightline comes just weeks after Nine had expanded its news coverage to include a 5.00am weekday news bulletin as a lead-in to the breakfast program Today.
The Nightline format was launched around fifteen years ago in competition with Network Ten’s popular 10.30pm news bulletin that had launched a couple of years earlier, but in recent years Nightline had often found itself bumped later and later into the evening, sometimes not appearing until after midnight.
The final edition of Nightline aired last night (Friday 25 July). This leaves Ten News and ABC’s Lateline as the only regular late-night news bulletins.
Nine has announced that no staff cuts are intended by axing Sunday and Nightline, and that staff from the two programs are expected to be redeployed to other positions.