G’bye mate! Nine topper ankles

Chisholm return to web cues Gyngell's exit

SYDNEY — TV topper David Gyngell won’t be joining colleagues on the annual pilgrimage to the LA Screenings this week — he’s gone surfing in Australia’s beautiful Byron Bay instead.

The 39-year-old last week stunned the industry Down Under when he ankled Nine Network, the terrestrial flagship of Kerry Packer’s Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd., after less than a year as CEO and fired off an angry fax leaving no secret as to the reason for his exit.

Blaming increasingly “multilayered management systems” that threatened to “render (his) position untenable,” Gyngell declared that without a “clear mandate to run the business, I believed it was in my best interests to move on.”

Gyngell’s announcement points the finger at PBL CEO John Alexander, a former newspaper editor with increasing influence over the television division.

In recent months Packer, who is in ill health and has attempted retirement several times, returned to work three days a week, and former Nine stalwarts Lynton Taylor and Peter Faiman also are back: Taylor returned to Nine to handle sporting rights negotiations and “Crocodile Dundee” helmer Faiman apparently has stepped up his activities at the network.

But the final straw for Gyngell appears to have been the appointment the previous week of Sam Chisholm as director of television.

Chisholm, who underwent a successful lung transplant a couple of years ago, is credited with instituting Nine’s winning formula when he ran the network between 1975 and 1990. He later ran Blighty satcaster BSkyB for Rupert Murdoch before returning to Australia in 2000. Chisholm was until recently chairman of feevee platform Foxtel, and he sits on the PBL board.

These executives report directly to Packer, undercutting Gyngell’s authority.

A release issued by PBL indicated Chisholm would lead the search for Gyngell’s replacement.

His pedigree will be difficult to top. Gyngell is the son of Bruce Gyngell, the first man to appear on Australian television and a former Nine topper; he’s also Packer’s godson and was best man at the wedding of Packer’s son James.

Some management changes had been expected, given the bruising perennial leader Nine has been getting in the ratings this year from a resurgent Seven, which is enjoying success with Touchstone TV’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost.”

Seven’s news and public affairs programs have regularly trumped Nine. Morning show “Sunrise” eclipses Nine’s “Today” and Seven’s early-evening current affairs show “Today Tonight” has inched ahead of Nine’s “A Current Affair.”

As a result of the instability, morale is low at the network famed for its culture of winning.

When contacted by Variety about the L.A. Screenings Nine programmer Michael Healy said in forlorn tones he didn’t want to talk because he was “over journos.”

One would think that’s the least of his worries.