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Will The Project get the axe? Channel 10’s flagship show is underperforming

Channel 10’s flagship show The Project was once a juggernaut in the ratings, premiering to an impressive 1.2 million viewers in 2009.

But in recent years, the show has suffered with a wide range of issues which have seen them plummet – with just 267,000 tuning in on Monday night.

Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, TV Blackbox’s Robert McKnight said major oversights are putting the future of the current affairs show at risk – from overpaid hosts, to lack of revenue and the show’s political stance.

In trouble: While The Project may be one of Network 10’s flagship programs, it’s plagued by a wide range of problems, which has put its future at risk. Pictured, the show’s panelists

‘The biggest thing that will kill The Project is if it’s not making revenue. But there’s a bigger issue at play,’ the TV producer said. 

McKnight explained that the long-running current affairs program had ‘raised plenty of eyebrows’ with Network 10’s parent company, Viacom CBS.

The US company bought 10 in August 2017, after the Australian network was placed into receivership, according to a report by Variety at the time. 

According to McKnight, Viacom CBS has struggled to understand how The Project – which is owned by Rove McManus’ production company, Roving Enterprises – manages to wield so much power at the network.

Plagued by problems: Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, TV Blackbox's Robert McKnight (pictured) explained that the show's issues ranged from poor ratings to overpaid hosts

Plagued by problems: Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, TV Blackbox’s Robert McKnight (pictured) explained that the show’s issues ranged from poor ratings to overpaid hosts

He said Roving Enterprises is able to use ‘all of Channel 10’s resources from the news department and is then getting paid a motza to deliver The Project’. 

‘In the States, The Project would be an internal production. So CBS and Viacom are not happy about the commercial arrangement 10 has with Roving Enterprises,’ McKnight continued.

He added: ‘Viacom CBS are scratching their heads saying, “This is the worst deal in history,” because The Project has access to everything from the news department from 10. 

'The biggest thing that will kill The Project is if it's not making revenue. But there's a bigger issue at play,' the renowned TV producer began. Pictured, The Project's Waleed Aly and Lisa Wilkinson

‘The biggest thing that will kill The Project is if it’s not making revenue. But there’s a bigger issue at play,’ the renowned TV producer began. Pictured, The Project’s Waleed Aly and Lisa Wilkinson

‘And the news department can’t even say no to The Project using anything. The Project has absolute rights to use whatever they want. That’s not a good deal when a production company has so much power.’ 

The Project was even immune to staff cuts at Network 10 thanks to its contract with Roving Enterprises, which cannot be altered until it’s time to renegotiate the deal, according to a report by Daily Mail Australia in August last year.  

Furthermore, McKnight said ‘is so left and woke, it is not connecting with mainstream Australia’. 

Red flags: McKnight explained that the long-running current affairs program had 'raised plenty of eyebrows' with Network 10's parent company, Viacom CBS. Pictured, panelist Carrie Bickmore

Red flags: McKnight explained that the long-running current affairs program had ‘raised plenty of eyebrows’ with Network 10’s parent company, Viacom CBS. Pictured, panelist Carrie Bickmore

‘They’ve got a very left agenda, and it’s not just centrist left, it’s a little bit further to the left,’ he added. 

‘If you look at every successful format that works in this country, especially talkback radio, they all skew right. 

‘So, 10 and The Project are going against the grain, and it’s getting more and more woke as the years go on.’

'In the States, The Project would be an internal production. So CBS and Viacom are not happy about the commercial arrangement 10 has with Roving Enterprises,' McKnight said

‘In the States, The Project would be an internal production. So CBS and Viacom are not happy about the commercial arrangement 10 has with Roving Enterprises,’ McKnight said

While McKnight said he couldn’t fault the show’s panellists, who he described as ‘fantastic’, people still aren’t tuning in.

According to a report by Mediaweek on Tuesday, The Project only pulled in 267,000 viewers at 6.30pm on Monday night.

This increased at 7pm, with the show’s viewership increasing to 472,000.

Not enough: While McKnight said he couldn't fault the show's panelists, who he described as 'fantastic', he said people still weren't tuning in. Pictured, Peter Helliar

Not enough: While McKnight said he couldn’t fault the show’s panelists, who he described as ‘fantastic’, he said people still weren’t tuning in. Pictured, Peter Helliar

By comparison, Channel Nine’s A Current Affair pulled in 826,000 viewers, while the ABC’s 7.30 saw an audience of 567,000. 

‘Waleed [Aly], Carrie [Bickmore], Pete [Helliar] – they are fantastic presenters, but it’s the content that’s pushing them to this leftist agenda, which sits well with younger viewers, but younger viewers aren’t watching TV,’ explained McKnight.

He said that being ‘a topical show’, it fails to perform on catch up services like 10play, with only dramas and reality shows working well on those platforms.  

Joining the team: Speaking about recent addition Lisa, McKnight said The Project's issues extended far beyond her

Joining the team: Speaking about recent addition Lisa, McKnight said The Project’s issues extended far beyond her

‘The simple fact is, The Project actually needs to stop, work out what it wants to be and what it needs to be to go forward, because the current brand and idea of the show is not working,’ he said. 

McKnight said ‘the only thing that will save it is if it’s making money’, but argued that will become harder to do as its presenters develop bigger profiles.  

‘As those presenters become bigger and bigger over the years, they’ll get more money, which diminishes the return on investment. So, it will get to the point where the show isn’t worth its while,’ he added.

'Lisa has been great for the network. She's delivered great interviews, great exclusives, she's broken the Brittany Higgins story,' he said

‘Lisa has been great for the network. She’s delivered great interviews, great exclusives, she’s broken the Brittany Higgins story,’ he said

Speaking about recent addition Lisa Wilkinson, McKnight said The Project’s issues extended far beyond her.

Lisa, 61, joined The Project in 2018, after leaving Channel Nine’s Today show following a highly publicised pay dispute. 

‘I think that Lisa at the time was a good signing because it created a lot of headlines. What it didn’t deliver was an audience,’ explained McKnight. 

'The simple fact is, The Project actually needs to stop, work out what it wants to be and what it needs to be to go forward, because the current brand and idea of the show is not working,' he said

‘The simple fact is, The Project actually needs to stop, work out what it wants to be and what it needs to be to go forward, because the current brand and idea of the show is not working,’ he said

‘And that’s the biggest issue you can ever have against you in television, is if you don’t deliver that audience. 

‘Lisa has been great for the network. She’s delivered great interviews, great exclusives, she’s broken the Brittany Higgins story. 

‘From a point of view of having that big investigative journalist, Lisa has actually been great for Network 10. Has it been enough to justify the wage she’s on? Well, that’s a question for the bean counters.’

'They've got a very left agenda, and it's not just centrist left, it's a little bit further to the left,' said McKnight of the show's audience problems

‘They’ve got a very left agenda, and it’s not just centrist left, it’s a little bit further to the left,’ said McKnight of the show’s audience problems

McKnight estimates Lisa’s salary on The Project to be around $700,000, and said it’s likely to be far less than what she was earning on Today.  

According to a report by Daily Mail Australia in August 2020, Network 10 refused to comment on rumours Lisa earns between $1million and $2.3million per year.  

‘She wanted to make a point about her value on the Today show, which was somewhat proven when the show imploded after her departure. But the fact is, as a standalone performer, she hasn’t brought the audience with her,’ said McKnight. 

In was reported in 2015 that Waleed Aly and Carrie Bickmore earned the same annual salary of $500,000.

The Queensland Times reported at the time that the pair had ‘matching deals’ with Channel 10, but this situation may have changed since.

A later report in The Daily Telegraph in 2019 claimed that Bickmore – who has been with the show since its inception – was earning an annual salary of $750,000.

Still going: Despite being plagued by problems, McKnight insisted he 'would not count The Project out yet'

Still going: Despite being plagued by problems, McKnight insisted he ‘would not count The Project out yet’

Despite being plagued by problems, McKnight insisted he ‘would not count The Project out yet’.  

‘At executive levels at 10, there is a lot of love for that show. They will fight tooth and nail for it. It is this weird love affair 10’s executives have with that show,’ he said. 

‘I think it could almost rate the same as Studio 10 and it still wouldn’t be on the chopping block from a local point of view. It’s just whether the CBS overlords eventually step in and say, “Enough.”‘

Daily Mail Australia has reached out to Network 10 for comment.  

'At executive levels at 10, there is a lot of love for that show. They will fight tooth and nail for it. It is this weird love affair 10's executives have with that show,' he said

‘At executive levels at 10, there is a lot of love for that show. They will fight tooth and nail for it. It is this weird love affair 10’s executives have with that show,’ he said

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk