The Nine Network will pay almost $2 million for the first full interview with the family of Cleo Smith, who was abducted in Western Australia three months ago.
Nine beat other major TV rivals to secure the deal, with Channel Seven’s Spotlight program reportedly in the running right to the end.
Four-year-old Cleo vanished from her family’s tent at the Blowholes Campground, just 50 kilometres from their home in Carnarvon, in northern Western Australia, in mid-October.
Her sleeping bag was also missing, and the tent left unzipped at a height the preschooler couldn’t reach – leading police to believe Cleo had been abducted.
After an 18-day search involving hundreds of police and search and rescue personnel, the little girl was found in a house just minutes from her family home.
Police forced entry to the home in the middle of the night. They found Cleo alone in a room, physically unharmed and playing with toys.
Terence Darrell Kelly, 36, who allegedly kept Cleo in the home, was arrested nearby. He has been charged with forcibly taking a child under the age of 16.
The Nine Network-owned WA Today is reporting that Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith and stepfather Jake Gliddon have accepted a $2 million cheque for an exclusive interview.
The network has refused to officially confirm how much it has handed over in the deal struck by publicist Max Markson. It reportedly includes plans for interviews with the family to appear across the network – including on 60 Minutes – and in print, as well as a possible six-part special on streaming service Stan and a podcast.
The Australian is reporting that Cleo will join Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon during the filming process.
Nine’s news and current affairs director Darren Wick said the network was “honoured that the family of Cleo Smith has chosen to tell their story to Nine”.
“From a 60 Minutes story to other opportunities across Nine, we will continue to support Cleo and her family as they go through the court process, and we take our legal obligations around reporting on Cleo’s story extremely seriously,” Mr Wick said.
Previous record sums for television interviews in Australia include the $1 million each paid to miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb, who were trapped underground for two weeks in the Beaconsfield mine collapse in Tasmania, and undisclosed amounts paid to survivors of the Lindt Cafe siege.
In 1985, 60 Minutes paid Lindy Chamberlain for an exclusive interview after she was falsely convicted of killing her daughter Azaria and spent three years in jail.
Mr Kelly, who has no connection with Cleo’s family, is next due to appear in court on Monday.