WILLESEE, MICHAEL (1942– )
Mike Willesee’s father, Don, became a minister in the Whitlam government, his brother Terry has been a commercial television star, and his children, Amy and Michael Junior, have gone into journalism, but Michael Senior is one of a kind. This product of Perth spent much of the 1960s on ABC Television’s two current affairs programs, as a reporter on This Day Tonight and as host (1969–71) of Four Corners, but moved quickly to the Nine Network.
In 1971, Willesee designed, produced and presented A Current Affair, a program still pumping out nightly tabloid journalism more than 40 years later. He moved to the rival Network Ten in 1974, then hosted Willesee at Seven. He returned to Nine to host Willesee (1984–88). Having set up his own production company, Transmedia, Willesee sold the rights to A Current Affair to Nine in 1988. He returned as presenter for a year in 1993.
Willesee was the pre-eminent, top-rating television interviewer in Australia for 25 years. His charismatic style involved personal charm, attentive listening, strategic use of research, persistence and reliance on anticipating interviewees’ answers. It also involved tactical use of what became known as ‘the Willesee pause’. Willesee is the winner of six Logie Awards. In 2002 he was inducted into the TV Week Logies Hall of Fame.
Interviewed by Andrew Denton on ABC Television in 2006, Willesee said of his technique: ‘Quite seriously, I think I did more research and preparation than any of the other guys.’ His former producer at 60 Minutes, Gerald Stone, believes Willesee is the television journalist who ‘comes closest to displaying both substance and style’ in equal measure.
Willesee’s most famous interview was with then federal opposition leader John Hewson 10 days prior to the 1993 federal election. During an interview about Hewson’s proposal to introduce a GST, Willesee asked whether a birthday cake would cost more or less under the GST. Hewson’s stumbling answers appeared to show Hewson had no answer.
Transmedia produced many high-rating documentary series including, in the 1990s, those on new-found religious beliefs Willesee had developed. By 1998, he was listed in Business Review Weekly’s Rich 200 List with investments in the Sydney Swans AFL team, 2Day FM, thoroughbred racing and property. Since 2012, he has appeared as a reporter on the Seven Network’s Sunday Night.
REF: G. Stone, Compulsive Viewing (2000).