The Tribal Mind

Kristina Keneally.

Learning curve: Kristina Keneally is excited about her new spot at Channel 10. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Many of Kristina Keneally's former colleagues regard politics and the media as polar opposites, and will see her decision to work in television as crossing over to the enemy.

She sees the transition as perfectly natural. Indeed, her performances in the NSW parliamentary bear pit could be seen as ideal training for the next stage of her working life - filling in for Ita Buttrose on Channel Ten's morning talk show, Studio 10.

"Ita's role in the show does seem to be one of a guru and a sage, which is somewhat intimidating, but I'll do my best to fill her significant footprint," Keneally says.

"One thing I loved about politics was that it was a way to use the media to communicate with people. For me, dealing with the media was a challenge and a place to experiment. You could be more dextrous depending on the medium you were working with. Facial expressions, voice modulation, a smile, a scowl - all communicate volumes. And an MP has to interview constituents to get them to tell their story - they have to be able to express empathy, create a bond of trust, and then get to the heart of what the matter is. It's a skill that's transferable."

Her week with Studio 10 represents "an opportunity to learn from very experienced professionals", to "put a toe in the water" and take "baby steps" towards what she hopes will become a multi-platform career in which she'll be able to say "meaningful things" about issues close to her heart - Catholicism, the Stillbirth Foundation and poverty in the Third World, for example. She hopes that if this works well, there will be bigger television possibilities down the track. But mainly, she just wants to have fun.

"Fun or funny are not words you'd associate with being a member of the NSW government," she says. "There are aspects of my personality that in many ways I had to suppress when I was in political life. I have a sense of humour that can find the funny things in even the most serious of circumstances, and quite frankly, wisecracks and joke-making for a politician is very dangerous territory. But I'm not in politics any more and now I can do the sort of things that allow that side of my personality to emerge."

Keneally is amused at the notion she is about to become one of Those TV Blondes. So will we ever see The Hairstyle again? "When you're in the public eye you have to define yourself, or someone else will do it for you," she says. "Everything you do as a politician - your hair, the way you dress, how you laugh, what you say - all of that is scrutinised.

''Maggie Thatcher said that she never changed her haircut because she knew if she did, people would be talking about the haircut and not about what she was saying. Unfortunately I found that even though I didn't change my hair, people were still talking about it.

"That hairstyle said 'Kristina Keneally, Premier'. It was a deliberate decision to have my hair the way I had it, and when I was no longer premier, it was a deliberate decision to change that."

So you could say Kristina Kenneally's transformation into a "media entity" is an opportunity to let her hair down, in more ways than one.

Keneally starts her role on Studio Ten at 8.30am on Monday, May 12.

Into crime time

Killing-Field

Rebecca Gibney has spent the past 12 months immersing herself in murder. No more The Nicest Mother in Australia. She's watched The Killing, Broadchurch,

Prime Suspect, The Broken Shore, The Bridge and The Fall, and she's recorded True Detective to watch as soon as she gets a spare minute.

This is not simply so she can play a new role. Nowadays she's much more than an actress. It's so she can confidently supervise the writing, casting, directing and editing of the new series she hopes will spring from the telemovie she stars in tonight, The Killing Field.

When she finished filming the final episode of Packed To The Rafters, in May of last year, Gibney was determined to do something different from her best-known roles - matriarch Julie Rafter and forensic psychiatrist Jane Halifax. Channel Seven approached her production company with a script about a detective named Eve Winter, and she thought it had potential.

"It was very important for me to play a character vastly different from Julie Rafter," Gibney says.

"Jane Halifax was emotionally quite remote, but when we

meet Eve Winter at the beginning of the telemovie, she's actually taken a desk job because of her emotional involvement in previous cases, which have left her completely burnt out. She does get caught up, she does reveal too much of herself. One of her strengths is she can get people to say things they might not necessarily want to say."

While she thought the character had potential, Gibney asked if the script could be reworked.

"Seven have been incredible in allowing me to be really hands-on in the whole process. We massaged the script. We brought on a director and a producer. We set about getting the cast together. I sat in on every casting session, and we got this extraordinary crew, and I was right across the editing."

Having massaged the script to her satisfaction, Gibney had to make a decision about casting. It's common in Australian TV dramas for the audience to be familiar with the actors, and to say, "Oh look, it's Claudia Karvan - she's got shorter hair in this", or "There's Vince Colosimo - I wonder if he'll get killed this time" . That can be fun, but also distracting. Gibney decided to go the other way, to let viewers immerse themselves in the story.

"We actively tried to cast it with faces that people don't know - theatre actors, wonderful actors most people haven't seen before," she says. "You'll be seeing faces that look like they belong in a country town. Hopefully that will mean people are able to disappear into it a bit, because they're not recognising everyone - except me, presumably."

Another exception is Peter O'Brien, a co-star from their Flying Doctors days, and this time playing a senior cop with whom she has been romantically involved.

Will Eve Winter be as popular as Julie Rafter? "I'm turning 50 this year and frankly it doesn't bother me if I'm liked as a character," says Gibney. "My friends love me, my family loves me. As a performer you can't actually spend your life doing jobs where you just want to be liked all the time. Halifax was seven years and 21 telemovies, and she wasn't particularly liked. Julie Rafter was absolutely loved, and that's because she was the mum of Australia, and I loved playing that.

"Eve Winter won't be loved like her, but I don't think she'll be hated. She is a bit enigmatic. In the telemovie, you find out bits and pieces of her history, but all the questions won't be answered. We're really setting her up in this for a short-run series."

Detective Winter doesn't have to be a saint. She just has to be smart enough to catch murderers - and to carry a whodunit that's up to the standard of all the dramas Gibney has been studying.

Tomorrow morning's ratings figures will determine whether we learn any more about her.

The Killing Field is on at 8.40pm on Sunday on Seven.

Starting behind

Kylie-Minogue-The-Voice

This week, channels Nine and Ten launch their biggest series of the year, but both are starting with a handicap. MasterChef must get over what came to be called "the turd-sandwich incident" - Ten's decision three years ago to sandwich the finale of MasterChef around an episode of The Renovators.

This attempt to boost the numbers for a dud reno show only served to drag down the audience for MasterChef, and to taint the whole series for the following two years. Have the 3 million Australians who used to be devotees of Masterchef finally managed to get the nasty taste out of their mouths?

Nine's handicap in The Voice is The Kylie Factor. Securing Kylie Minogue's services as a judge should have been a huge ratings booster. Then she appeared on The Logies.

Whether or not she was miming, the song and the performance were embarrassing - especially when followed by nasty publicity about how some of the dancers were underpaid or not paid. Nine must be fearing that this was enough to change her status from "Australia's sweetheart" to "one of those Aussies who are up themselves because they had a modest success overseas".

The ratings over the next two weeks will offer answers.

The Voice starts on Sunday at 6.30pm on Nine. MasterChef Australia starts on Monday at 7.30pm on Ten.