Is this the new Paxman (with lip gloss)?

Londoners love their nightly date with Emily Maitlis. But is she ready to go national at 'Newsnight'?
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The Independent Online

Admirers say it was the opportunity she has been looking for since she joined BBC London News in 2001. That move from national to regional broadcasting was supposed to be very temporary, but Maitlis's ambition was stymied. BBC London demanded guarantees that she would not be poached by a network show for at least 18 months.

Since then Maitlis's nightly date with London licence payers has been augmented by spells on Breakfast News, but she has not achieved the breakthrough that encouraged her to part company with Sky.

Now the BBC is looking for a competitor for Newsnight's established female presenter Kirsty Wark. A senior source explains: "Finding convincing women for Newsnight is extremely difficult and it is important to have a thought-through succession strategy. There is no great anti-Kirsty conspiracy but she has been there a long time."

The hunt has accelerated since Wark entered negotiations to sell her production company, IWC, to RDF Media. When the sale is completed, Wark will be nearly £4m wealthier. Colleagues speculate that she may relish the opportunity to reduce the demands of her TV career.

Wark is not preparing to surrender her post at Newsnight and the BBC has not asked her to. But her reputation has been dented. In her native Scotland she has been heavily criticised for her closeness to the First Minister, Jack McConnell.

Such embarrassments might have been overlooked if Kirsty Wark were still flavour of the month. But she is a veteran of the Birt era. The new head of BBC Television News, Peter Horrocks, is an Emily Maitlis fan. Insiders call her "Peter's personal protégée".

Does that make Maitlis a safe bet for Newsnight? Last week Horrocks was away from Television Centre on jury service and unavailable for comment. But for others the jury was out on Maitlis too. In her first outing on Monday she displayed a serious demeanour decorated with a sprinkling of demure humour. But Tuesday was tougher, especially her interview with the Respect MP George Galloway.

A BBC editor says: "The pre-recorded interview with Galloway was not perfect. He is hard to pin down, but Emily did it no better than several other contenders might have done." The consensus at Television Centre is that Horrocks's sponsorship will be decisive.

Jeremy Paxman has been at Newsnight since 1989 and Wark since 1993. A BBC spokesman stolidly insists: "There is no vacancy for a presenter at Newsnight. New presenters are tried from time to time." Nonetheless the programme team is aware of the need to identify replacements. Maitlis and Radio 4's Eddie Mair are being groomed to present the show; each will be part of a strategy described as "keeping a couple of plausible new faces simmering for when the opportunity arises". Kirsty Wark has not volunteered to spend more time with her money but Emily Maitlis's appearances last week were just the beginning of a process.

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