Tears, scandals and one angry PM: Ten years of The Project
Barely a week after Channel 10 launched The 7PM Project in 2009, critics predicted its imminent demise. “The axe is about to fall,” one wrote. “Its days are surely numbered,” declared another. Such gloomy forecasts weren’t unwarranted: in its first five days on air, the program shed half its audience. “Clunky” and “unfunny” were among viewers’ gentler assessments, while one Twitter user urged 10 to dust off the set of Prisoner and lock up the hosts.
Others saw The Project’s potential – which 10 soon realised. It has survived a name change (dropping the 7PM bit in 2011, when it expanded to one hour) and the cancellation and re-birth of its Sunday edition. It was central to the careers of Dave Hughes, Charlie Pickering, Ruby Rose, James Mathison and Carrie Bickmore, the only original host still with the show. Now, Bickmore is joined by Waleed Aly, Peter Helliar, Lisa Wilkinson, Hamish McDonald and Tommy Little.
As The Project nears its 10th anniversary, we recall the moments that made headlines.
1. Magda comes out
In 2012, marriage equality campaigner Alex Greenwich had a meeting with the advisers of then-prime minister, Julia Gillard. When he told them Magda Szubanski would come out The Project that evening, their faces dropped. “They knew this was going to have a massive impact,” Greenwich recalled.
Magda Szubanski came out during a live broadcast of The Project in 2012.Credit:Ten
Nearly seven years after Szubanski told the hosts she is “gay-gay-gay-gay-gay-gay a little bit not gay-gay-gay-gay” almost 62 per cent of Australians endorsed same-sex marriage in a controversial postal survey.
2. Morrison clashes with Aly
Earlier this year, Australian Brenton Tarrant allegedly killed 51 people in two New Zealand mosques. In a televised editorial about the attack, Waleed Aly mentioned a Sydney Morning Herald report claiming Prime Minister Scott Morrison had previously tried to capitalise on voter concerns about Muslim immigration.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison denied trying to exploit anti-Muslim sentiment in a tense interview with Waleed Aly.Credit:Channel 10
After dismissing these claims as “disgraceful … an appalling lie”, Morrison sat down with Aly for a 30-minute, commercial-free interview. During the combative exchange, the PM admitted to raising anti-Muslim sentiment in a 2010 cabinet meeting but denied trying to exploit such fears.
3. Hughes slams media hypocrisy
In 2011, AFL player agent Ricky Nixon was suspended for “inappropriate” dealings with 17-year-old Kim Duthie, dubbed “the St Kilda schoolgirl” by media. When Duthie appeared on The Project, it was a chance to set the record straight. Instead, she withdrew her earlier claims, then recanted her withdrawal, possibly unaware the cameras were still rolling. Later, she insisted her comments were said in jest – in other words, she was joking about lying about lying.
Kim Duthie and so-called ‘St Kilda schoolgirl’ Ricky Nixon.Credit:Kim Duthie
When rival media slammed the segment, Dave Hughes pointed out that most had already interviewed Duthie. “I think it's a bit rich for other outlets to try and take the high road now,” he said.
4. Project poaches Lisa
When Nine baulked at Lisa Wilkinson’s request for pay parity with Today co-host Karl Stefanovic, she was “let go”. What the network didn’t know is that she’d been offered a gig on 10, including a role on The Project. Today’s ratings went down, while Wilkinson scored a series of high-profile celebrity interviews for The Sunday Project, helping grow its audience.
5. Viewers take over
It’s an old panel show gimmick: let viewers play co-host for a day. Instead of roping in some boofhead off the street, The Project found Australians with more interesting stories, including transgender man Andrew Guy, who spoke of his teenage struggles and the support of his mother. Five years earlier, Guy explained, he began living as “the real me – and I'm loving it … life is good”.
6. Waleed wins gold
For 57 years straight, every TV Week Gold Logie Award recipient was white. “You can’t argue with the punters!” the networks said, emphasising that viewers chose the winner. But when Aly and SBS newsreader Lee Lin Chin made the shortlist in 2016 … well, there must be some mistake. “What’s Waleed ever done?” fumed one TV executive. This made Aly’s victory even sweeter. “Do not adjust your sets: there's nothing wrong with the picture,” he said in his acceptance speech.
7. Bickmore raises millions
In 2015, during her gold Logie acceptance speech, Carrie Bickmore donned a blue beanie to honour her late husband, Greg Lange, who had died of a brain tumour. “Everyone thinks it is a rare form of cancer,” she said. “it is not.” Bickmore went on to create the Beanies 4 Brain Cancer Foundation, raising more than $2 million in a Project episode devoted entirely to the cause. All up, the Foundation has raised $11.5 million.
8. Kitty 'ruins' Christmas
It’s a commercial TV staple: a “live cross” to the North Pole. But when comedian Kitty Flanagan claimed Santa “doesn’t even exist”, hundreds of parents complained. “The damage is done,” one declared. “My kids will never be the same.” This prompted a backlash against the backlash. “If a stranger on TV has more influence over your child than you do, Santa is the least of your problems,” said one person. Another offered a simple remedy: “Tell your kid that Kitty’s a comedian – and she was making a joke.”
9. Mia in a muddle
“We accept that gay people can't change who they love and who they're sexually attracted to,” commentator Mia Freedman said in 2014. “Why do we think that people who are sexually attracted to children can be rehabilitated?” It was a bad choice of words, blurted out on live TV, and her regret was obvious. Never mind Freedman’s history of supporting gay rights – by the time she apologised, the mob had moved on to a fresh outrage.
10. Lisa “ambushes” Dreyfuss
Several months before his interview with Wilkinson, Hollywood actor Richard Dreyfuss was accused of exposing himself to a woman in the 1980s. After she pressed him about this, he claimed he’d been “mugged … by the hostess of a talk show”. Wilkinson countered that she’d told his publicist, three days prior, she’d happily turn down the interview if he refused to discuss the allegations.
WHAT: The Project
WHEN: Sunday to Friday, 6.30pm on 10.
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