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Channel 10 job cuts: Why left-leaning The Project is untouchable

Channel 10 made a point of emphasising last week that The Project was safe from job cuts as the network ‘restructures’ its news division in response to the COVID-19 recession.

And there’s a reason why the left-leaning current affairs show, hosted by Waleed Aly and Carrie Bickmore, hasn’t been affected by the mass sackings.

The Project is not actually produced by Channel 10, which means it isn’t part of the network’s financially struggling news and operations department. 

The nightly program is produced by an external company, Roving Enterprises, which is owned by TV personality Rove McManus and his business partner Craig Campbell. 

Channel 10 is believed to have a contract with Roving Enterprises that cannot be altered until it’s time to renegotiate the deal.

The broadcaster is therefore obligated to continue paying Roving Enterprises the agreed-upon fee to air The Project, despite the financial downturn.

It’s unclear when Channel 10’s deal with the production company expires, or if the network intends to renegotiate the terms.

If 10 and Roving Enterprises do agree to change the financial terms of the deal, then there may be job cuts at The Project.

But this depends entirely on whether Roving Enterprises agrees to accept a lower rate.

Daily Mail Australia has contacted Channel 10 for comment. 

It comes after a well-placed source claimed that Kerri-Anne Kennerley was secretly furious that she’d lost her job at Studio 10 while The Project was left untouched in the network’s brutal budget cuts last week.

‘KAK would not be happy The Project has been left alone,’ the insider told New Idea on Monday.

To make matters worse, Kennerley has apparently been blacklisted from appearing on The Project as a guest host or panellist for the remainder of her contract with 10.

The source said the network considered Kennerley, who is known for her conservative views, a ‘loose cannon’ and feared that she would try to ‘pull a stunt’ if she were allowed on The Project, which is known for its left-leaning stance.

The talk show queen has attracted her fair share of controversy while on Studio 10, particularly with her politically-incorrect monologues and controversial comments.

Her opinions on Aboriginal issues sparked significant backlash in January 2019, and were the subject of complaints to the TV watchdog.

In October last year, she also made divisive remarks about climate change protesters and said she supported tougher sentences.

Despite her abrupt sacking, New Idea reported that she was planning her next move and was looking at a presenting role on Sky News.

The publication added that Kennerley might alternatively move back to her original network, Channel Nine, and reboot her talk show Midday.

Kennerley could also join Nine’s reboot of The Celebrity Apprentice, which is set to start filming later this year.

Last Wednesday, Kennerley bid a tearful farewell to Studio 10 viewers live on air, less than 24 hours after being sacked from the network as a cost-cutting measure.

She acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic had made it necessary to tighten the budget, and thanked her friends and colleagues for their support. 

‘I just know I’m back on the “lazy Susan” of television. Yeah, it’s very, very tough for a lot of people,’ she began.

‘But I’ve always worked on a personal level, the Charles Darwin theory that says to survive you don’t need to be the most intelligent, you don’t have to be the strongest, but you have to be, to survive, the most adaptable,’ she added. 

Kennerley, who joined Studio 10 as a part-time panellist in September 2018, went on to say just how much she treasures the friendships she’s made along the way.

‘I’ve had a ball! And the reason why I’ve got this outfit today is because, if you’re being run out of town, get in front of the parade or get in front of the crowd and make it look like a parade!’ she added with a salute.

Earlier this week, the former executive producer of Studio 10 made extraordinary claims about Kennerley’s departure from the program.

Rob McKnight, who oversaw day-to-day operations of Studio 10 from 2013 to 2017, said on his TV Blackbox podcast on Tuesday that the decision to pull Kennerley, 66, from the panel wasn’t just a matter of tightening the budget.

He claimed that Channel 10 executives also wanted to keep Kennerley off television because of her divisive views, which have generated negative headlines in the past.

McKnight noted that the Logie Hall of Fame recipient remains under contract until the end of 2020, and Channel 10 will ‘pay her out’ until her deal expires.

Network bosses apparently decided to put Kennerley on ‘gardening leave’ to avoid any potential controversies, which could affect Studio 10’s commercial relationships.

‘Gardening leave’ refers to when an employee is suspended from work on full pay for the duration of a notice period, typically to prevent them from having any further influence on the organisation or working for a rival company. 

‘With Kerri-Anne going, she’s still contracted for a while,’ said McKnight, who is known for his impeccable sources in the TV industry.

‘They’re paying her out because they don’t want the controversy. They don’t want an advertiser backlash based on the controversial comments that can come.’ 

He added that Channel 10 has no plans to use Kennerley in any other capacity for the remainder of her contract, but she will stay on the payroll until December.

When contacted for comment, Kennerley’s manager referred to an earlier statement provided last Tuesday regarding her departure from Channel 10.

The previous statement read: ‘Kerri-Anne’s role on Studio 10 was only part-time two or three days a week. Nevertheless she is disappointed to be finishing up in September but understands the financial pressures on the network. She wishes everyone at Network 10 the best.

‘While she finishes up on air [at the] end of September, she remains under an exclusive contract with Channel 10 until December 31, 2020.’

It comes after Australians called for Channel 10 to cancel The Project, as the network cuts at least 25 jobs in response to the COVID-19 recession.

The Project and its hosts managed to avoid the swinging axe last week as the broadcaster announced a dramatic ‘restructuring’ of its news division, with the likes of Kennerley, Natarsha Belling and Tim Bailey being made redundant. 

But many furious viewers have said that the left-leaning current affairs show, hosted by Waleed Aly and Carrie Bickmore, should have been first on the chopping block. 

The Project has been on the air since 2009 and is hosted on weeknights by Aly, Bickmore and comedian Peter Helliar. Its Sunday edition is hosted by Lisa Wilkinson.

The program also features a variety of regular guest hosts, including Tommy Little, Gorgi Coghlan and Rachel Corbett.

‘Should have sacked the muppets on The Project instead,’ one furious viewer wrote on Facebook after news of the cuts broke.

‘Axe the Project, it’s s**t,’ another commented, while a third wrote: ‘Sack The Project.’

‘Now they need to cancel The Project and sack Waleed Aly and they might start getting more viewers,’ one angry viewer posted.

Despite the uproar, The Project has won several Logie Awards over the years for Most Popular Panel and Most Popular Presenter, which are voted for by the public.

In fact, Aly was awarded the coveted Gold Logie for Most Popular Personality on Australian Television in 2016.

Aly and Bickmore are believed to earn the same annual salary of $500,000.

The Queensland Times reported in 2015 that they had ‘matching deals’ with Channel 10, but this situation may have changed since.

When Wilkinson joined The Project in 2018, her deal with the network was rumoured to be close to $2.3million.

Despite Channel 10’s news and operations department being ‘restructured’ in response to the sharp decline in advertising revenue, The Project hasn’t been affected by the cuts.

As mentioned, this is due to the fact it’s made by an external company, Roving Enterprises. But Daily Mail Australia also understands it’s because network chief Beverley McGarvey considers the show an essential part of the daily schedule.

‘[The Project] will never be cancelled because senior management won’t hear a bad word said against it,’ a source said earlier this year.

‘For some reason, the higher-ups at Channel 10 love it, even though the viewers don’t. It doesn’t rate, it’s expensive to produce and a lot of the publicity it generates is negative.’

At least 25 jobs have been axed at Channel 10 overall, with further redundancies to be announced in the coming weeks, and the changes are expected to be effective from September 14. 

Morning show Studio 10 has been hit the worst, with outspoken panellist Kennerley and journalist Natarsha Belling being made redundant. 

Host Sarah Harris and entertainment reporter Angela Bishop are staying, and Denise Drysdale and Denise Scott will continue as contributors.

Narelda Jacobs will remain as newsreader and Jono Coleman will present the advertorial segments as normal. 

Panellist Joe Hildebrand hasn’t lost his job yet, but is understood to be in talks with the network about his future.

Meanwhile, there are unconfirmed rumours Studio 10 regular Dr Andrew Rochford will be promoted to co-anchor alongside Harris.

As part of the company restructure, the 10 News First weekday operation will be centralised in Sydney and Melbourne, and the network will move to a national weekday weather model fronted by Tim Bailey’s to-be-announced replacement.

Sydney, Brisbane and Perth will all host their news bulletins out of Sydney, while Melbourne and Adelaide will be based out of Melbourne.

Sandra Sully and Matt Burke will host the Sydney and Brisbane bulletins, and Jennifer Keyte and Stephen Quartermain will host the Melbourne and Adelaide edition.

A new team will be announced to host the Perth news.

Channel 10’s network director of news content, Ross Dagan, said in a statement about the job cuts: ‘The decision to make these changes was a very difficult one and I want to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to our friends and colleagues who will leave the network. 

‘It is in no way a reflection of their talent, contribution or passion. They are exceptionally gifted people. We are incredibly proud of them and their work. There is no doubt they will be missed.

‘These painful changes reflect the state of the media industry in recent years and the need for all media companies to achieve new efficiencies.

‘While our viewers in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth will see some on-air changes, we will continue to produce local news and employ local reporters, camera operators and production staff in those cities.’

Beverley McGarvey, Channel 10’s chief content officer, added: ‘These decisions are not being made lightly; however, they are essential to future-proofing our business.’

The decision to axe 25 staff members comes three months after the broadcaster announced the closure of its news website 10 Daily. 

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