In what passes for television news at this time of year, may we present this Channel Ten press release someone slid under our clubhouse door:
Kicking off on Sunday January 22, The Project will take up permanent residence at 6pm, six days a week. This move returns Ten News at Five to its traditional one hour format and introduces an exciting new 30-minute edition of The Project to kick-start TEN’s Sunday nights.
Further details have since come to hand – The Age reports the first half of the new Project will focus exclusively on the news headlines of the day, for one – but we’re long past caring about the actual content of The (7pm) Project here. It’s been a soft-soap version of Today Tonight for well over a year now, hosted by the increasingly self-satisfied Charlie Pickering, the now completely pointless Dave Hughes, and an ever-increasing roster of people who’s names we see no reason whatsoever to recall. Pickering and Hughes might still put down “comedian” on their census forms, but out in the real world they’re currently standing shoulder to shoulder with professional bland guys like Larry Emdur. And he’s doing a much better job.
No, what’s of interest here is the way Ten seems to be going out of their way to sink The Project after spending so very, very long trying to make it work. Short version of the story: The 7pm Project rated so badly during its first few weeks and months its doom seemed assured (and yes, we weren’t going to be sad to see it leave). But Ten stuck by it to an amazing extent as it changed casts and approaches and pretty much everything else until it started to click. Even then it was largely reliant on what was happening around it – during the MasterChef heyday it did gangbusters because it latched onto the more successful series and never let go – but through thick and thin Ten kept it in the 7pm timeslot where people could find it and gave it a chance to build an audience.
To quote from the classics, now all that’s changed. First it went to an hour format starting at 6.30pm, and now it’s going to 6pm, where it will go head-to-head with the regular nightly news on Seven and Nine. Where it will lose. And it won’t be going back to 7pm, because Ten plans to stick all its top-rating food-related reality shows on then. And then someone is going to ask why they’re spending all that money on a show that comes third in a timeslot they used to do perfectly well in by showing repeats of The Simpsons, and that will be the end of that story.
But if you’re sick of our snark, here’s an alternative prediction: with the spotlight sliding off them, the Project team decide to actually do what they originally semi-promised to do – make fun of the daily news. They take their occasional quips and news footage bits and expand them until they make up the show itself – a show that’s smart enough to pull back the curtain on how politicians and big business use the media to get their points across, yet silly enough to make sure the jokes keep on coming.
Dave Hughes quits to go stare at his kids, Charlie Pickering implodes into a white-hot ball of smug, and the fill-on hosts keep on doing a better job than the big names. The guest comedians get more airtime, the on-panel pundits get less, the stories that actually tackle issues keep coming while the Today Tonight-style button-pushing ones get the chop, and somehow despite all these changes audiences keep on watching.
And then Graham Kennedy comes back from the dead to host, because that’s actually slightly more likely than everything else on our wish list.