Campbell calls in lawyer Linda Clark as TV3 eyes soap opera for his timeslot.

Embattled broadcaster John Campbell has engaged lawyer and former journalist Linda Clark to fight his corner, as the chairman of TV3's parent company, MediaWorks, confirms the company is looking for a homegrown soap to replace Campbell's current affairs show.

Ms Clark, a former TVNZ political editor and host of Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme, is now a lawyer with Kensington Swan who specialises in damage control.

She did not return calls yesterday to discuss her client, echoing a chorus of official silence from most parties involved in this saga.

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Campbell Live is expected to be replaced on TV3 by a daily soap likely to be produced by Eyeworks, a company built by Julie Christie, now executive director of MediaWorks.

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Christie built her earlier firm, Touchdown, on reality TV programmes. She sold it to the Eyeworks group in 2006 and stayed on as a director until 2013, when she joined MediaWorks.

Yesterday, a MediaWorks spokeswoman said a "daily drama series is not currently being considered for 7pm".

But chairman Rod McGeoch contradicted this claim when reached at the New South Wales coastal community resort town of Noosa. "We're going to make our own soap. We've just got to find, through that whole period - 6pm till 8pm - a mix of things that will improve our performance."

Mr McGeoch said that while he appreciated the 10-year history of Campbell Live, he had responsibilities to shareholders - principally banks and vulture hedge funds, who had lost hundreds of millions - to improve the firm's financial performance.

"[Campbell Live] is a programme that's had a long involvement with the network. It's entitled to think that any review would be thorough and fair.

"But at the same time, the board has sent out a strong signal that we are just after improvement wherever we can get it. No decisions yet, but it's a pretty deep review."

Lawyer and former TVNZ political editor Linda Clark specialises in damage control.
Lawyer and former TVNZ political editor Linda Clark specialises in damage control.

Mr McGeoch said his commitment to news and current affairs extended only as far as its audience.

"We put news on, but only because it rates. And we sell advertising around news. This is what this is all about."

A source familiar with recent developments at Campbell Live said Campbell and producer Pip Keane had "known for some time their days are numbered".

"He's been aware that there has been a lack of support from his own bosses since last year. The writing has been on the wall, no matter what they did," the source said.

Other sources within TV3 said more-junior staff were caught off-guard by Thursday's announcement and had been left shocked and upset.

MediaWorks would not comment on what it called the "confidential" review process, but it is understood the consultation phase for staff to put forward suggestions to "refresh" the programme closes on Friday.

Social media has continued to run hot with petitions and calls to save Campbell Live. Last night, one of the best-known faces of TV3 from its early days in the 1980s, journalist Genevieve Westcott, tweeted out her support. "Save Campbell live! Brilliant show. Outstanding journalists," she wrote.

Campbell and Ms Christie have clashed previously over a 2006 Campbell Live story that said an Eyeworks' reality show, Treasure Island, had left a Fijian island "not so much treasured as trashed".

Eyeworks successfully complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority over a report that included interviews with two visitors to the island who claimed the production company was responsible for a large amount of rubbish there, including wine bottles and disposable razors.

A Campbell Live crew filmed Ms Christie on the island and included footage of that in its report.

The authority partially upheld the complaint, concluding that there was no reliable basis to conclude the rubbish was left by the Treasure Island production.

Yesterday, a MediaWorks spokeswoman said the dispute between the pair was "ancient history".