Focused and tenacious ... 7.30 presenter Leigh Sales bristles with energy.
The TV comeback of the year belongs to the ABC's flagship current affairs show, 7.30. Last year it stumbled into the post-Kerry O'Brien era with desultory energy, poor story selection and an unwieldy hosting policy that looked like a plot from Frontline.
It started the year late - missing several crucial stories, including the Queensland floods - and never appeared to catch up. Ratings slipped from about 700,000 viewers in the five mainland capitals to as few as 500,000.
The stories feel once again connected to the day's news and there's vigour in the reporting.
In February the show appointed a new executive producer in Sally Neighbour, and the changes have been decisive and effective. The show is now drawing more than 800,000 a night from Monday to Thursday each week.
A crucial change has been resolving the awkward impasse between co-hosts Leigh Sales in Sydney and Chris Uhlmann in Canberra. Sales is now clearly 7.30's focus and she has been placed en pointe as the show's primary interviewer, having previously been little more than a glorified presenter who was starting to look dispirited as the limitations of a figurehead's role sank in.
Sales now bristles with energy - she's focused, tenacious and even enjoying herself. Her skilful pursuit and eventual prosecution of Tony Abbott in August was a breakout effort, but hardly a one-off. Sales looks in command, which has even made sense of her vast desk.
Uhlmann is also contributing better work. His political analysis is more nuanced and effective than his often-blunt interviews. He has a particular knack for placing the day's events in telling historical focus. ''About once a generation Australian politicians discover Asia,'' was the opening line from his recent examination of the federal government's new white paper on Asia.
Quite why Uhlmann's report was followed by Sales interviewing mining billionaire Clive Palmer about the realities of the white paper is unclear. His doubt about whether the document's unfunded goals would come to fruition was an obvious one, but there's a reason Palmer is a recurring punchline on other ABC shows, and Sales had reached it by the time he was discussing Titanic II and its role in promoting ''peace, love and understanding''.
Generally, however, the stories feel once again connected to the day's news and there's vigour in the reporting. Last year a half-hour broadcast often comprised five segments; this year it's three, and the extra time adds depth.
The occasional music grab relating to various ethnic groups or nationalities is strangely cliched, but there's purposefulness to 7.30 once more. The nightly recaps during hurricane Sandy went beyond disaster porn (they only showed the exploding power transformer twice in one report), although the earlier loss of life in other countries such as Haiti went unmentioned.
Sally Neighbour's 7.30 is producing strong current affairs for a younger audience. But instead of trying to pander to them with gimmicks, the show is offering timeless basics done well with strong interviews and newsworthy stories. But that doesn't mean 7.30 should dispense with John Clarke and Bryan Dawe's interview slot on Thursdays. The satirists were the best thing about the show in 2011, and should be allowed to share in 7.30's revitalisation.