A sizeable part of Australia has woken up with Liz Hayes. Not literally, of course, but she'd be the first to see the joke.
Through a career of early-morning starts for the TODAY show and now the gruelling life on the road for 60 Minutes, Liz has retained a wicked, self-deprecating sense of humour.
The Liz Hayes of the twinkling eyes and ready laugh who is known to television audiences is the Liz Hayes you meet in real life. She can be deadly serious and formidably tough when the mood takes her. But the mood most often takes her to laughing and joking. She makes fun of hardships and even makes light of the brilliant success she's achieved in the demanding world of television current affairs.
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Liz Hayes' first job in Sydney was with New Idea and TV Week. But she stayed only a matter of weeks, instead throwing in her lot with television. For most reporters it is a difficult transition going from written to spoken word and summoning the courage to stand before cameras and report right into peoples' lounge rooms. For Liz it was as if all her training had led her to this moment. She was a television natural with her looks, her voice, personality and rare ability to communicate so powerfully. For two years she worked as an on-the-road reporter for Channel Ten's Eyewitness News in Sydney. But over at Channel Nine, her talent and potential had been noted. In 1981 she was "poached".
In almost 20 years of 60 Minutes, there has only ever been 11 reporters. To make it to this program is the highest pinnacle in television journalism. And it can be a long slog getting there. Liz Hayes was not exempted. The legendary Channel Nine boss Sam Chisholm and key executives like Peter Meakin and Gerald Stone had earmarked her for bigger things. But first there was the apprenticeship to be served, first as a reporter on National Nine News then as presenter of the 11.30 Morning News.
In 1986 Liz produced and presented a memorable documentary called The Great Gift, the story of heart transplant patients and the work of brilliant heart surgeon, Dr Victor Chang. For that documentary she was awarded a Logie and, soon after, the job as co-host of the national Today program.
It was a time when Today was still struggling to build an audience not used to breakfast television. Similar programs had enjoyed great success in America but Australians were proving slow to accept the concept. Liz Hayes, with her sparkling good humour and tenacious interviewing style, helped make Today the institution it has become.
For 10 years, 46 weeks a year, Liz got up at around 4am to prepare for one of the industry's toughest jobs -- two hours of live television covering subjects from sport to politics, showbiz to economics. Four to five interviews a day, ranging across all these subjects, made her one of the most skilled interviewers in television and with her growing popularity came other outlets.
She began hosting special event telecasts that over the years have included winter Olympics, the announcement of Sydney's Year 2000 Olympic win and fronted Today from New Guinea, Los Angeles, Wimbledon, New York, Dublin and the top end of Australia.
When Tracey Curro quit 60 Minutes in 1996, Liz Hayes was the only choice to replace her. The years of reporting, interviewing and presenting had turned her into the consummate professional. As for Liz, after 10 years being studio-bound with Today, she was more than ready for a life travelling the world, which is the glamorous but, after a while, stamina-sapping job of the 60 Minutes reporter.