The Seven Network has scrapped its plan to axe Today Tonight as a stand-alone show, Fairfax Media has been told.
Instead, an overhauled version of the program will return on Monday, February 11 with Helen Kapalos as host of the Sydney and Melbourne editions. It will be less sensationalist in tone and will have a new set and a segment called "You be the judge", hosted by Derryn Hinch.
"I think management got a bit too excited looking at the high ratings over the past couple of weeks," a source said, referring to the one-hour news bulletins that have been beating Nine's A Current Affair most nights.
"They've realised the ratings were inflated by the tennis, the floods and the bushfires. That doesn't mean people will watch an hour of news at 6pm every night, especially on a slow news day. Now, they've dropped that plan altogether."
The network had considered rolling Today Tonight into a one-hour bulletin with a mix of short news reports and longer current affairs segments. The change was touted in the middle of last year but was opposed by the then-news and current affairs chief, Peter Meakin.
When Meakin stepped down in November, advocates of the one-hour bulletin pushed ahead with the plan. But current affairs director Neil Mooney fought to retain Today Tonight as a separate program and now appears to have gotten his way.
"There will be fewer speed camera and washing powder reports," the source said. "You'll see more interesting profiles and stories about inspiring people. There'll definitely be a change in tone. It won't be highbrow but you will see less tabloid stuff."
Earlier in the week, Seven refused to say whether Today Tonight would return, despite widespread rumours it had been axed. But this afternoon, a Seven spokeswoman confirmed to Fairfax Media it will remain a stand-alone program at 6.30pm.
"However, we retain the right to be flexible in that hour of news and public affairs," the spokeswoman said. "The hour-long bulletin worked very well during the floods and the bushfires and we could well do it again."