By JAMILA RIZVI
If there was an Oscar for Best Performance By A Political Interviewer in 2012/2013, Leigh Sales would win it.
As host of the ABC’s preeminent news and current affairs program, 7:30, Sales has done all the heavy lifting during this election campaign and the three years leading up to it.
She was the one asking the questions when Tony Abbott was brought undone in late 2012.
She was the one providing minute-by-minute live updates and insightful commentary as Julia Gillard’s prime ministership came to an end, anchoring hours of rolling coverage.
And she was the one who deftly and intelligently interrogated Kevin Rudd upon his return to the top job.
So what will she be doing on election night? Nothing.
To widespread astonishment, the ABC has confirmed that their election night coverage will not feature the host of their flagship news program. Instead, Sales’ predecessor at the 7.30 Report, Kerry O’Brien, will be returning to the chair.
O’Brien, who hosted the 7.30 Report for the fifteen years prior to his retirement in 2011, will be joined by a panel of journalists including Q&A host Tony Jones, election analyst Antony Green, ABC News Breakfast‘s Joe O’Brien and Kitchen Cabinet‘s Annabel Crabb. But O’Brien will be the main event; the voice of political wisdom and experience.
I’ve been trying to think of a neat analogy about retired footballers making a return to the game when they’re not match fit and unfamiliar with the playing styles of the current teams. But that feels a little unwieldy, so I’ll just say what every regular viewer of 7.30 must be thinking right now: Why the hell has Leigh Sales been benched?
According to one senior TV executive (who wishes to remain anonymous), “the industry is flabbergasted. She’s the best they’ve got at the ABC and to have her doing nothing on election night is an absolute joke.”
Except it’s not a very funny one.
Election night is a chance for networks to show off their very best. When you’ve got every channel presenting live on the same event, the competition for eyeballs is extreme and the opportunity to enhance the reputations of presenters is significant.
And the politics of television politics are intense.
Over at Channel 9, it will be Today Show hosts Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic, who will be running the show. This makes sense as the pair have had regular on-air interactions with both parties’ leaders over the past three years. They anchor 15 hours of live TV per week and have interviewed every major – and many minor – political player during this campaign and the years leading up to it. They’ll be joined by the Nine Network’s iconic political reporter Laurie Oakes.
At Channel 7, they’re giving a fierce plug to their new national 4pm bulletin by putting Melissa Doyle and Matt White on the election coverage desk, along with Sydney news presenter Chris Bath. They’ll be crossing to specialist political commentators, who will be with the leaders on the ground.
At Channel 10, the irreverent and slightly younger-slanted politically savvy crew at The Project (who are also Ten’s only national news team) will be anchoring the election night coverage, along with chief political correspondent Hugh Rimmington.
And Sky News will be showcasing their political A-team, led by David Spears and Keiren Gilbert.
Every single network is making a calculated decision about promoting a new show or presenting their best possible political team. So why isn’t the ABC?