Host Don Burke has had a rollercoaster relationship with Channel 9.
Host Don Burke has had a rollercoaster relationship with Channel 9.

Don Burke’s bitter war of words with Nine

DON Burke made no secret of his anger at the axing of his long-running gardening program, Burke's Backyard, after 17 seasons in 2004.

The star - who has today denied multiple allegations of sexual harassment and bullying made by a number of former colleagues - publicly spoke out against his former employer in the years following Burke's Backyard's demise.

In a revealing 2005 interview with Andrew Denton on his ABC talk show Enough Rope, Burke was quick to point out Nine's failings since Burke's Backyard had been taken off the air, replaced with shortlived Scott Cam vehicle Our Place.

"Channel Nine has lost quite a number of weeks of ratings this year," he told Denton.

"If Burke's Backyard had been on Channel Nine this year and if it rated the same as it did last year for the same time, they'd have won those weeks."

Burke claimed he'd been told of his axing via a letter in the mail from Nine, and called the decision "a stupid mistake".

Don Burke publicly spoke out against Nine in the years after Burke’s Backyard was axed.
Don Burke publicly spoke out against Nine in the years after Burke’s Backyard was axed.

"What had led up to it, was from the, I suppose the point of view of a new regime with (former Nine CEO) David Gyngell. They started to change," he said.

Burke said he was frustrated with network demands to alter key elements of his program.

"I just thought look, they're killing off a wonderful thing that ... was a part of people's lives," he said.

"And I wasn't prepared to break that trust and do a crappy program for them (the viewers)."

Denton also touched on "rumours" that Burke was difficult to work with.

"I would be the first to admit that," Burke said.

"[Other] presenters do what they're bloody told. I didn't and I think they hated me for it and they still do. And when it was successful, I think they hated me all the more."

Burke also said that he had an appetite for professional revenge.

"I go a long way to get even with people," he revealed, saying he was keen to find "good young Australians with talent" to break in to the television industry.

"If I could give one of them a leg in, I'd have gotten even with all those bastards that never gave me a chance," he said.

At the time, Crikey reported that the interview was "like the subject himself - infuriating, self absorbed, cringe-making and full of examples of a huge ego".

In discussing the end of Burke's Backyard, which had halved its viewership since its heyday, "Burke blamed everyone other than himself," Crikey claimed.

"It's also a pity that more questions were not put to Burke about his behaviour and other issues in private, with staff and others. Burke did admit to being difficult at times and not suffering fools gladly, but many people who have worked with him could tell some horrifying stories," Crikey reported.

Burke's Backyard would return to Nine for a well-received one-off special in 2007 - but in a 2011 interview with Newscorp, Burke again laid into his longtime employer, saying Kerry Packer would be "heartbroken" to see Nine being run into the ground by clueless programmers.

"Once Kerry [Packer] declined, the feeling for people went, the care and the love that Kerry had died in the bum. Kerry would be heartbroken. The tragedy is that, in David Gyngell, you've got someone who does have that love but isn't doing it."

At the time, Burke had recently had several TV proposals knocked back by Nine, and said that the decision to axe Burke's Backyard some seven years earlier was "crazy, loopy".

"Gyngell has said to me it was their biggest mistake, but they are not going to go back on it, they are not going to admit that mistake," he said.

While Gyngell declined to comment in the 2011 piece, Nine spokesman David Hurley labelled Burke as arrogant.

"Everyone in the industry is acutely aware of Don's huge opinion of himself. Not always shared by others," Hurley said at the time. "He really needs to look past sheer self-interest to grasp this truism - the caravan has moved on."

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