Obituary: Gerald Stone

Gerald Stone, the American-born journalist who launched 60 Minutes in Australia, has died at the age of 87.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, he came to Australia with his wife Beth and two daughters in 1962.

After three years as a Vietnam correspondent for The Daily Mirror and The Australian newspapers, he made the move to television, joining ABC‘s This Day Tonight in 1967.

By the mid-1970s, current affairs had hit the mainstream of commercial television, and Stone moved across to the Nine Network. He initially hosted an interview program, Federal File.

He then presided over a controversial revamp of Nine’s news bulletins in Sydney and Melbourne, replacing both cities’ evening news with a single program, News Centre Nine. Anchored by Brian Henderson in Sydney and Peter Hitchener in Melbourne, News Centre Nine was a rare misstep in Nine’s news portfolio.

Despite News Centre Nine‘s failure, Stone was then handpicked by Kerry Packer to produce Nine’s bold new current affairs venture, an Australian version of the American program 60 Minutes.

Launched in February 1979, 60 Minutes was a ratings flop in its early days but was soon to gain momentum and by 1980 it had become one of Nine’s strongest performers, dominating the all-important 7.30pm Sunday timeslot.

Having steered 60 Minutes through much of its first decade, Stone went back to the US, to Rupert Murdoch‘s Fox network. He spent three years at Fox before returning to Australia for his next venture, producing the Seven Network‘s new nightly current affairs program, Real Life.

Real Life, hosted by Stan Grant, struggled up against Nine’s A Current Affair but managed to run for three years and in 1994 won a TV Week Logie Award for Most Popular Public Affairs Program.

Stone went on to become editor of news magazine The Bulletin for three years and was then appointed to the board of SBS, where he served for ten years.

He wrote two books on his former employer, the Nine Network. In 2000, Compulsive Viewing gave the inside story on the success of the Nine Network under the control of Kerry Packer. After Packer died in 2005, Stone wrote the follow up, Who Killed Channel 9?, tracing the network’s fall from dominance.

In 2015 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) “for significant service to print and broadcast media as a journalist, editor, television producer and author.” In 2017, he was inducted into The Australian Media Hall Of Fame

Gerald Stone is survived by wife Irene, his two children, Klay and Jennifer, and two grandchildren Louis and Gina.

Source: The Melbourne Press Club, Sydney Morning Herald. TV Times, 2 February 1973.

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