The Inside Story on Nine’s big news and current affairs push

EP Hamish Thomson talks about the changed format of the Inside Story and broader network plans

By Sally Rawsthorne

Nine’s Inside Story returned to our screens this week, with a few major changes to the format. Initially developed as a true-crime format that screened after 8.30pm, Inside Story will now be a current affairs-based program as part of Nine’s wider current affairs and news push.

Inside Story EP Hamish Thomson told Mediaweek that the move would capitalise on Nine’s lead in the news and current affairs space. “Obviously Nine News and A Current Affair are a strong point for us here, and we’re leaders in that so it’s natural that we should capitalise on that strength. It’s in our DNA, it’s proved successful for many years at the network. It’s really been the backbone of our success.

“Current affairs shows are doing well in the ratings at the moment, and the beauty of those current affairs shows is that we own the format and the show. We’re not paying massive royalties to some production company, and they’re not subject to the whims of fashion like shiny floor shows. David Gyngell and our news director Darren Wick have been interested in this format for quite some time. They want more current affairs output, and Nine pretty much has every other style of current affairs shows so covered, so this was a logical step.

Nine is looking to bolster its local content in current affairs, as well as Australian drama and homegrown shiny floor shows as we’re increasingly moving away from our dependence on US studio output,” he continued.

As such, a changed Inside Story was approved before the previous series was even finished. “It’s a show that was conceived as part of a broader network-wide focus on current affairs. It’s been in development for quite some time, I worked with Andrew Backwell on it in various incarnations, and I’ve been working closely with Craig McPherson on some other ideas that we’re developing for Nine.”

As well as a move away from true-crime stories, the show has also ditched its reporters in what Thomson called “a radical departure from the current affairs offering at Channel Nine”. While Nine stalwart Leila McKinnon will continue to host the format, subjects of the stories told on Inside Story – which range from online catfishing to doctors looking to end alcohol-fuelled violence to life with an extreme handicap – speak direct to camera. “We had always wanted to do a reporter-less show here, and we decided the time was right. Not only have we taken the focus off crime to look at things like medical, adventure and human bravery, but we’re now telling stories in a different way. Being reporter-less, the subject is the teller of their own story. There’s no reporter, no pieces to camera – it’s very much about allowing people to tell their own stories.

“This is an entirely a new show. We had produced two crime series under the Inside Story banner, and they both fared well in the ratings but the intention was always to broaden our scope beyond crime. The show was previously several stories reported by some of Nine’s up and coming talent [including Alicia Loxley, Tom Steinfort and Deborah Knight] and they did a brilliant job, but we just decided to take a totally different approach,” he added.

Thomson believes that the new format for Inside Story will create a deeper connection between the viewer and the show. “It’s just a different way of telling stories, which differentiates us from other offerings. It’s done in such a way that people can emotionally engage really easily, because the subject of the story is talking straight to the viewer the whole time. They’re simple stories about Australians told in their own words. There’s a broad range of subject matter, but a fair share of them are about inspiring people overcoming adversity. The viewer will connect very strongly with the stories on an emotional level. There’s certainly plenty of ups and downs and light and shade – these are very powerful stories.

As to future changes to the format, Thomson said that nothing was on the horizon. “This is the form that we want to work, and it should be well received by viewers. This is an original format, and it’s certainly a unique current affairs offering – hopefully the public agrees.”

>> Inside the timeslot story

Although the show started strong with 1m+ viewers when it premiered in 2014, it dropped off to about half of that towards the end of its first run. Inside Story’s move to an earlier primetime spot in the schedule of 7.30pm on Thursday should help the show pick up more viewers, Thomson noted. “It’s a great timeslot to be coming in after A Current Affair, which has been rating exceptionally well this year. It’s a really strong lead-in, and hopefully we can carry those viewers into our show. It’s fascinating stories being presented to viewers who are already engaged, it’s an extension of A Current Affair’s offering. [Previously] it was a fairly late timeslot, but we won that pretty much every week that we were out there. We were happy with the ratings.”

>> Inside Story: The Challenge

“We don’t have the massive budget of shows like 60 Minutes so we have to think smart. These stories aren’t necessarily easier or harder to produce than a 60 Minutes story, but they present a different set of challenges. Without the luxury of voiceovers and reporter pieces to camera, the producers’ work is really cut out for them in ensuring that there is a story narrative line and that it’s coherent and simple to follow. Obviously that means we have to hunt out good talent who can tell their own story,” Thomson said.

“It’s certainly a lean team, but we’ve got plenty on talent. Leila’s studio craft is second to none, and she’s a highly intelligent and talented journo who has taken an active role in the show, which is great.”

John Coutis, whose life with spina bifida is the subject of the first episode of Inside Story's third season. Right: Coutis' Car

Left: John Coutis, whose life with spina bifida is the subject of the first episode of Inside Story’s third season.
Right: Coutis’ Car



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