Jana Wendt had been described as the "peripatetic daughter of Australian current affairs". In 1999, Jana "completed the grand slam of Australian television – appearing on all 5 national networks (channels Ten, Nine, Seven, ABC and SBS) over the past 20 years (1979-1999)." The 'Witness' program in 1996 heralded the return of Jana Wendt, then 40, to the forefront of Australian journalism. It was the most talked-about program at the beginning of that year.

However Jana had stated, "I'm happy when I'm working in TV on the road, doing stories. But I don't love television per se. The actual medium itself doesn't hold a fascination for me. I'd rather read a novel. I'm not so fascinated by TV that I need to be there … I don't have a driving ambition to be on television. I'm not wedded to it." In her last year on the Australian '60 Minutes' program, Jana argued the program had become a "tabloid, sensationlist and trivial" program "with no commitment to giving stories their proper priority."

Journalist Paul Lyneham recounted in 1997, "Interestingly, one of the final offers Nine made to Jana Wendt was that she should host 'Nightline' and she saw that as the bimbo role and said 'I'll do the interviews.' The ABC said yes to (Kerry) O’Brien (conducting all the political interviews) but channel Nine said no to Jana which, given the perceptions of the two places, you might have expected it to be the other way around … Unlike the ABC, they (Nine) look after their stars."

Commentator Terry Lane conceded, "There are very few current affairs television interviews that have stuck in my memory, but I do remember an interview Jana Wendt did with Sitiveni Rabuka soon after his military coup in Fiji. Her questioning was persistent, polite and informed. She would be an admirable and welcome presenter for the '7.30 Report' or 'Lateline' ... She could be an adornment to the ABC."

Jana Wendt explained, "Just sitting there and hosting … doesn't give you the adrenalin rush. It's not that the be-all and end-all of life is my adrenalin rush, but if you want to get excited about a job, it helps. I enjoy the dynamic of studio interviews. It's an interesting thing that happens to people, whether they are via satellite or sitting next to you, their adrenalin starts pumping faster and they seem to lift their game. They feel as though they have to present their case in the most potent, the most persuasive manner."

Paul Lyneham continued, "I think Jana fronting 'Nightline' would have given it probably 5 (ratings) points for free, straight up. If I'd been (then network manager) David Leckie or (then news director) Peter Meakin, there'd have been a lot of imperative in my heart to think that would be something you'd do at all cost. The bottom line was they wanted the political interviews and the political analyses done by their political correspondent out of Canberra.

"In the end, whether Jana liked it or not, Jana didn't like it, they stuck to their guns and I have got a fair bit of respect for them for that. Not just because I was one of those personally involved with it, but it said to me that they first and foremost believe that you fuel these things on substance before style. I'm not saying for a second that Jana's not a person of considerable journalistic substance. But I don't believe that you could or should try and do coverage of Canberra out of Sydney.

"And it was a curious and ironic situation that we had virtually a repeat of an earlier episode in a different context. And on this occasion, it was the Nine network that actually, in my opinion, hung in on the real cuttting edge of day-to-day hard-nosed journalistic judgment that said, you do Canberra out of Canberra, because that's the way it's done, otherwise what is the press gallery for? Otherwise, why are all these pollies (politicians), covering this beat for, if you think it can be done by somebody in a studio in Sydney. And it can't in the end, over time it can't."

Producer Peter Manning observed, "The presenter idea is more of a commercial television thing. 'Four Corners' has a reputation that is much bigger than its presenter – unlike 'Witness' – so it can get away without having one." Anthony McClellan added, "The deal with Jana was discussed and signed within 7 days, I think. She would have been told (she was) going to be a linchpin of the ('Witness') program, that's just logic. You don't hire a person like Jana to put her in the cupboard."

General Motors Holden became a major sponsor of 'Witness'. The program received an annual budget of $12 million from the network. Some 70 people were working on 'Witness' the first year using state-of-the-art cameras. Following the top-rated series 'Blue Heelers', 'Witness with Jana Wendt' won its time slot 16 out of the 32 times the program went on air.

The first program attracted a national audience of 1,401,500 viewers (31.0% network share). Fashion designer Robert Burton watched the first 'Witness' program told 'Fairfax Media' Jana looked "pretty daggy. Her hair wasn't done, like, in any way. It was like she'd made it so she could go on television looking like anything." Of 'Witness', Peter Manning pointed out, "The program did more in 1996 than '60 Minutes' would ever do. Sure, it had some light stories, but it was never meant to be 'Sunday' or 'Four Corners'. It was always meant to be a commercial current affairs program."

On reflection, Jana told 'Fairfax Media', "I think the way we deliver information is important and I think it's important we debate the differences between information and entertainment and fluff. It seemed to me that what went on at 'Witness' last year (1996) crystallised this debate. It crystallised the pressures that can come when ideals slam into commercial constraints … Peter and I, I believe, began our experience at channel Seven with shared ideals … It's never pleasant to have your ideals … dismantled before you." 

Commercial television, was said, needed viewers. Some of 'Witness' stories saw the program fell into single-digit ratings. Peter Manning maintained, "At the outset, we promised to be reactive to the major news events of the moment. We determined to do the difficult stories, and we also said we would run stories at their proper length. The problem in terms of quality is that Jana wanted Mahler, I wanted Mozart and the network would have been happy with Beethoven."

Jana Wendt acknowledged, "It is true at times we have had our disagreements about the direction for the program ... There were creative tensions about our goals, how those goals translated into practice." Alan Bateman, Seven Sydney managing director, revealed, "The egos and the tensions in current affairs units are quite extraordinary. The levels change from day to day depending on the success of the program itself and the stories within the program." Peter Manning continued, "Now (in 1997), I think this whole thing is a tragedy of Greek proportions. Jana is an excellent presenter and interviewer … Some stories can be difficult. Finance stories, for instance, and political stories. We want to do the big, difficult stories not done on current affairs."

One insider told 'Fairfax Media', "The 'Witness' demographic was particularly difficult to achieve. We have to not only keep the traditional Seven audience, which is used to 'Today Tonight', the C-Ds, to get the popular, personality-driven stories, but also bring in the A-B demographic, the '60 Minutes', 'Sunday' and 'Four Corners' audience. So economics drive the slightly schizoid nature of the program. Jana and (producer) Gareth Harvey kept saying we ought to just be 'Sunday' but that would have meant we would have the A-B demographic, but we would have lost half our audience and would have been a noble failure."

Then network managing director Gary Rice offered, "You put Jana Wendt into an environment with almost any executive producer and range of other people whose egos are, shall we say, to be kind about it, fairly substantial, and you will inevitably have some tension. Jana has got some fairly high standards and she has views that have caused her and Peter to, shall we say, not agree from time to time."

In July 1996, 'Witness' was broadcast from Atlanta featuring stories to do with the summer Olympics. Paul Barry interviewed Juan Antonio Samaranch. But it was in August 1997 that marked 'Witness' turning point with the Stuart Diver interview and the story on the Thredbo landslide which attracted the highest ratings. Some 2,061,200 viewers were counted watching.

Peter Meakin noted, "Their story selection is more commercial now." However "I have never seen a program which loses so much audience over an hour. It's partly to do with the 9.30 time slot, but they also need to aim for more consistency. They are still doing two sorts of program – the big Paul Barry investigations and these little thumbnail sketches where you don't see the reporter. Paul Barry is a talented reporter. It's a pity he's such a Pom (with the English accent), but I don't think Australians find that a turn-off. He's a professional reporter blessed with striking good looks."

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