Is Lisa Wilkinson gunning to replace Leigh Sales on 7:30?

Is Lisa Wilkinson gunning to replace Leigh Sales on 7:30? The Project host shares a gushing tribute to departing ABC presenter – and the show’s verified Twitter account ‘likes’ it

She is already one of Australia’s highest-paid TV stars, but could Lisa Wilkinson be eyeing up the country’s most prestigious presenting job?

Some industry observers suspect The Project panellist, 62, may have her sights set on the hosting chair of ABC current affairs program 7.30.

Longtime anchor Leigh Sales, 48, announced on Thursday she was quitting the news show after 11 years because she wanted to spend more time with her two sons. 

Speculation: Some industry observers suspect The Project host Lisa Wilkinson (pictured) may have her sights set on the hosting chair of ABC current affairs program 7.30

Shortly after her on-air resignation, Wilkinson shared a gushing tribute to Sales on Twitter, praising her ‘class’ and ‘incredible tenure’.

‘Twelve years in one of the toughest, most unforgiving and intensely scrutinised jobs in TV journalism. You are all class @leighsales,’ she tweeted.

‘Congrats on an incredible tenure. Can’t wait to see what comes next. X.’

Tellingly, the verified 7.30 Twitter account liked Wilkinson’s post.

While Wilkinson has spent her career in commercial TV, her progressive views make her a good fit for the public broadcaster, and she also has a strong journalistic pedigree.

Taking a break: Longtime anchor Leigh Sales (pictured) announced on Thursday she was quitting the show after 11 years because she wanted to spend more time with her two sons

However, her contract with Channel 10 will likely keep her locked down for the foreseeable future.

She reportedly inked a ‘multi-year deal’ with the network in June 2021.

If she were to jump ship once her deal is up, she wouldn’t be the first presenter from The Project to do so.

Charlie Pickering hosted the current affairs show from 2009 until 2014, when he quit and signed with the ABC to host satirical program The Weekly.

ABC veteran Sales shocked viewers last night by announcing she was quitting 7.30 after 11 years, saying her decision came down to her ‘two beautiful little boys’ wanting to see more of their mum. 

Praise: Shortly after her on-air resignation, Wilkinson shared a gushing tribute to Sales on Twitter, praising her ‘class’ and ‘incredible tenure’

Interesting: Tellingly, the verified 7.30 Twitter account liked Wilkinson’s post

At the end of Thursday night’s program she told viewers she wanted them to hear the news from her ‘personally’, as she explained she wanted to finally spend evenings with her kids after more than a decade.

She will step down later this year after the federal election. 

‘I was appointed to the job on December 3, 2010. This is my 12th year in the seat. That was five Prime Ministers ago. It was so long ago that Donald Trump was just a guy with a bad orange hairdo hosting The Apprentice,’ she said. 

‘There’s nothing wrong other than I just feel a strong sense of it being time to pass the baton to the next runner in the race and to take a break. At the end of an election cycle feels like a good time to move on to something new at the ABC.’

She said she hoped it was obvious she had always approached the job with one goal ‘to ask frank questions of people in power, without fear or favour, that a fair-minded, reasonable person with some common sense watching at home might like to ask’. 

Colleagues pay tribute to Leigh Sales 

‘It’s in Leigh’s nature to seek fresh challenges’ – ABC news acting director Gavin Fang

‘Her fairness, integrity, work ethic and journalistic rigour have shone through’ – John Lyons, ABC’s head of investigative journalism 

‘Leigh is also an immensely supportive colleague and friend’ – 7.30 executive producer Justin Stevens 

In a possible first for an Australian TV news presenter, she then used strong language, saying she had ‘tried to shut down and call out bulls**t, hold powerful people to account, expose lies, incompetence and exaggeration in all political parties and all issues and present facts even when they’re unpopular or inconvenient’.

Sales said anchoring 7.30 has been ‘the most amazing job and I’ll never stop being grateful for the opportunities it’s given me’.

She then mentioned one of her most memorable interviewees over the years. 

‘The celebrities come and go but you never forget people like Matthew Low,’ Ms Sales said.

‘His wife was killed in the Dreamworld roller-coaster accident and found the strength down the track to do an interview and try to ensure no other family would have to go through what his family did. 

‘People like Matthew are the ones who stick with you.

‘Every time you interview somebody whose life has been devastated you feel terrified by what life has dished up to them and incredibly humbled by how they met it with strength and clarity and dignity and you just don’t forget it.’

She did single out one celebrity, though, saying meeting Paul McCartney ‘and getting a hug from him is one of the best days of my life’. 

Ms Sales also mentioned the viewers and how people would approach her in public and say how much joy her interview with McCartney had given them.

She spoke about what a demanding hosting 7.30 is and that it comes with a lot of pressure and scrutiny. 

‘When I first started I didn’t have children. And now I have two boys aged 10 and eight. And they’ve only ever known their mum at work four nights a week. 

‘They want me home with them before 8.30pm and I don’t think that’s too much for two little boys to ask and they’re two beautiful little boys.’ 

Throwback: Sales is seen in the earlier days of her presenting role of the 7.30 program on ABC

Ms Sales also thanked viewers for their supportive messages about the ABC itself.  

‘The ABC is so often under fire and it means a lot to all of us to know the public supports us,’ she said.

She said that 7.30 ‘is an incredibly important program’ and that it will keep going from strength to strength. 

‘I’m looking forward to having a good break and figuring out what I do next at the ABC … I’m be around for a while yet.’

She finished by saying ‘Please keep watching, my friends. See you on Monday. Goodnight.’

Strong audience: Sales (pictured in 2011) is leaving the show in good shape in the ratings 

Sales is leaving the show in good shape. In 2021 7.30’s average audience rose three per cent to almost one million total viewers per episode with a 13 per cent share of metro audiences in its time slot and 12.5 per cent of regional audiences.

After her shock announcement, tributes started to pour in for Ms Sales from her ABC colleagues. 

ABC Managing Director David Anderson said Sales is an exceptional journalist, respected by viewers and all sides of politics.

‘Leigh’s integrity, intellect and courage are evident in everything she does,’ he said. 

‘Our audiences have always seen Leigh as a journalist and broadcaster who challenges her subjects and asks the questions we all want answers to. I’m really looking forward to the next stage of her career here at the ABC.’ 

ABC news acting director Gavin Fang said the presenter had become synonymous with the program.

Leigh Sales’ busy life 

She joined the ABC in Brisbane in 1995 as a junior reporter and went on to hold senior roles, including being NSW state political reporter and national security correspondent.

She has also written three books, contributed to many other publications and co-hosts the podcast Chat 10, Looks 3 with Annabel Crabb.

‘We would love to have her stay in that role, but it’s in Leigh’s nature to seek fresh challenges, and it’s exciting for everyone to see what she’ll do next in journalism.

‘7.30 plays a vital role in the service ABC news provides to audiences and the presenter job is one of the most important in the Australian media – and one of the toughest and most highly scrutinised.

‘We’ll start thinking about a new presenter down the track. For the next few months we’ll just enjoy every moment of having Leigh on the program,’ he said. 

John Lyons, ABC’s head of investigative and in-depth journalism said ‘Her fairness, integrity, work ethic and journalistic rigour have shone through.

‘Leigh is without question one of the fairest and most decent people in journalism. Her editorial leadership has inspired both her colleagues and the millions of Australians who have watched both 7.30 and the ABC’s federal election coverage over those years.’

7.30’s executive producer Justin Stevens said Ms Sales represents ‘the finest virtues of public interest journalism. 

‘Year after year she has carried the weight and responsibility of fronting 7.30 with fairness, independence, impartiality and a forthright questioning of those in power without fear or favour – and Australian democracy is the better for it.

‘Leigh is also an immensely supportive colleague and friend … We’ll treasure the next four months before she starts a new chapter at the ABC. 

‘She leaves this role at the top of her game.’

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