Garry Wilkinson: “TV is a cruel business”

Garry Wilkinson: “TV is a cruel business”

Veteran sports broadcaster Garry Wilkinson, who spent nearly three decades at Seven has spoken about being unceremoniously dumped by the network in 2003.

Speaking to V8Sleuth podcast, Wilkinson recalls being summoned from Melbourne to the network’s Sydney headquarters for what he thought was a meeting about contract renewal.

“I had just come off an Australian Open Championship, hadn’t long come off the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. It was only two years after a hugely successful Sydney Olympic Games, for which I commentated on the gold medal winning Equestrian event. I did the Opening Ceremony. I did the Closing Ceremony, a massive, massive ratings success.”

‘Wilko’s’ distinguished CV also included Bathurst, Asian Games and presenting across weekend, morning, and afternoon Seven News programs.

But he had no idea of what was about to unfold in the meeting in Sydney.

“No, I didn’t know something was up,” he recalls.

“I turned up for the meeting. I walked in, there were only two people in the room, surprisingly. The surprise was the head of Human Resources. I walked in, neither of them spoke. They just handed me an envelope. I opened the envelope. That was it. Goodbye.

“There’s a backstory to that, which I can’t tell you. But the reasons why and the manipulations that went on behind the scenes, to engineer somebody else into a vacancy left by my departure. But that’s neither here nor there.”

Reports at the time said Seven would not be renewing Wilkinson’s contract and noted he was privately devastated at the decision.

Referring to the former management, he continued, “People come in, and they know that the board of directors want action so they turn everything upside down. Whether it produces good results or bad, it’s movement. Action. And that sometimes gets good people.

“I mean, I’ve met a lot of good people in television, talented people in television. Some of whom are still there. But I know an awful lot more that just vanished off the face. There one day, gone the nex.

“It’s a cruel business.”

“Wilko’ claims he was also denied long service payout.

Right, but he just misread the room entirely and just treated them with such disdain in the initial incident, that whatever chance slim chance the channel said seven at that time had of holding on to it was gone.

Surely that doesn’t happen if Mike was still involved? I don’t know, was his grip been reduced in these beforehand? It always felt like that on the outside. Yeah. Because there’s always network politics, there’s always stuff going on. So

the worst time in television is when there’s a wholesale management change. And I’ve lived through the first 123 arguably but the fourth one you think of a case in point you think you’re traveling? Well, I’d been at seventh Sydney network for 28 years. And

At that point, I’d done 35 Australian Opens and Davis Cups and X number of Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games, Bathurst and all that sort of stuff.

“I said ‘I’ve worked here every day of my life for the last 28 years. Sometimes six, sometimes seven days a week, sometimes 10, 12, 14 hours a day, and sometimes for 6, 7, 8 weeks on end, without a day off.

“(They said) ‘There would have been times between one contract expiring and you signing the new one where technically you weren’t employed. So no , you’re not entitled to service leave.’

“‘Righto, I said ‘We’ll I’ll see you in court.’”

With no immediate offers from rival broadcasters, he went to SKY News which, at the time was one third owned by Seven.

“There was no chance of getting my foot in the door at SKY News if I was in court, trying to squeeze long service leave. So I had to bite the bullet on that.”

He would continue to work for SKY News, SKY Racing and freelancing for the Australian Open global feed, Nine and even Seven.

Wilkinson, 79, now describes himself as “95% retired” but remains open to opportunities “if something fell into my lap tomorrow.”

He is a former winner of an international tennis association annual award as “World’s Best Commentator” and, in Sydney’s Olympic year, was awarded the “Australian Sports Medal” by the Australian Government, in recognition of his contribution to sports broadcasting.

“If I could get a gig at the Australian Open in January, that will be my 48th year of tennis commentary and my 45th Australian Open,” he added.

Seven has been contacted for comment.

You can hear more here.