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When Lisa Wilkinson became Ten’s highest-paid on-air talent, the staff was willing to forgive her huge salary, lavish wardrobe allowance, personal hair and makeup teams. Not to mention the luxury accommodation and business class flights between Sydney and Melbourne for her role in The Project.
After all, they were all assured that the big signing of the one-time Today presenter was a sign that Ten would return to the world of “serious” news — and help keep the fortunes of the reality TV franchises going. network.
However, the next five years have produced a very different reality.
The project’s valuation is now at an all-time low, with just a dismal 185,000 tuning in to the 6:30 p.m. timeslot in the five-city market in March, the show’s lowest ratings since its prime-time debut in 2017.
Studio 10 routinely finishes last in its timeslot, while major shows MasterChef and The Bachelor are in terminal decline.
(MasterChef’s premiere numbers were so low in April that former MKR judge Colin Fassnidge tweeted, “The last time I saw such bad ratings on a show… I was there.”)
The workforce, meanwhile, continues to decline due to an almost continuous round of layoffs.
It was in this environment that Lisa Wilkinson delivered her now infamous Logies speech.
Al smiles: Lisa Wilkinson was hailed as a potential savior for Ten . in 2017
Lisa Wilkinson attends the 62nd TV Week Logie Awards at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Center on June 19
In the space of a few seconds on Sunday night, Wilkinson set in motion an ACT Supreme Court delay on the upcoming rape trial of Brittany Higgins.
Chief Justice Lucy McCallum ruled “unfortunately and with gritted teeth” to leave the trial, which was due to start on Monday, over comments from Wilkinson, as well as radio broadcasters Amanda Keller and Brendan Jones.
Lawyers defending Higgins’ accused rapist Bruce Lehrmann successfully argued for the trial to be adjourned over the comments.
Mr Lehrmann pleads innocent.
Network Ten’s headquarters in Pyrmont. Network in ‘one of the most challenging phases in its long history’.
“It’s a fair assessment to say that the arrival of (Wilkinson) could be identified as the start of some of the problems,” said Ten staffer
But for some Ten employees, it was just the latest in a string of off-screen developments that have messed up since Wilkinson’s widespread arrival in 2017 following her departure from Nine.
Wilkinson reported a salary of $1.5 million a year and the associated perks became a problem with the workforce — many of whom were soon to be fired.
There was her wardrobe budget, an expensive hairdressing team, regular business class flights to and from Wilkinson’s home in Sydney to Melbourne, where The Project is filmed, and luxury accommodation.
While such perks are standard for big-name TV shows, they struck a chord in the Ten corridors when Wilkinson’s presence didn’t translate into ratings.
In fact, towards the end of 2021, ratings went into such a free-fall that Wilkinson was taken off the air by Ten management in the hopes her absence would “re-energise” viewers.
Staff in the dark at Ten in the wake of Wilkinson’s now infamous Logies speech
Rumor has it that Wilkinson (with Waleed Aly) earns about $1.7 million a year
It was around that time that her memoir “It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This” also made headlines when a number of key facts in the tome were disputed — including the so-called pay gap with former Today co-host Karl Stefanovic.
Wilkinson claimed in the book that Karl made double her salary doing the same job, and that when she asked for a raise, she was unceremoniously fired.
However, it was later claimed that Lisa was making more money than Karl for years when they first joined forces for the breakfast show in 2007.
It was hard to swallow for some of the employees who quietly worked behind the scenes at Ten at the time, whose salaries paled compared to Wilkinson’s nearly $2 million-a-year package.
“A lot of people didn’t really think it was worth raising, given the kind of money (Lisa) made at Ten,” said an employee of Ten.
However, that all changed after the fallout from Logies’ speech on Sunday evening.
In a new twist on Brittany Higgins’ rape trial, Peter FitzSimons (R) has been subpoenaed by the defense
A number of high-profile public faces of the network, including legendary news anchor Sandra Sully and former veteran weather forecaster Tim Bailey, took the bold step of publicly criticizing Wilkinson.
Bailey released a brutal tweet last night calling her a “big head,” while Sully “found” a tweet urging Wilkinson to “back out.”
According to a Pyrmont insider, eyebrows were also raised internally this week when Wilkinson’s husband Peter FitzSimons was named in Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing.
Attorneys for Higgins accused rapist Bruce Lehrmann noted that FitzSimons’ involvement in securing a book deal for Higgins could become a factor in the trial.
Higgins struck a lucrative deal with Penguin Random House in April – a deal that FitzSimons reportedly helped the real estate agent.
FitzSimons has dozens of books under a number of publishers and has released several by Penguin Random House, including The Great Aussie Bloke Slim Down (2016) and the 2013 bestselling Eureka.
Lehrmann’s attorneys signaled to Judge McCallum that this factor could be investigated as part of Higgins’ sexual assault trial and that FitzSimons was subpoenaed.
Brittany Higgins (L) wrote a big book prize in April with the help of Wilkinson’s husband Peter FitzSimons
Meanwhile, Network Ten’s embattled staff has taken another blow with long-serving news boss Anthony Murdoch sensationally resigning from office.
Murdoch, who joined Ten ten years ago, announced via email late Tuesday that he was stepping down as news director.
Obviously he was on annual leave at the time of his resignation.
Ten news boss Anthony Murdoch (L) has left the network amid ongoing off-screen chaos
Murdoch’s shocking departure has not been linked to the Wilkinson Supreme Court furor.
His departure, however, comes at a time when morale in the studios of Ten Sydney and Melbourne is “shockingly low” according to several insiders.
Prior to Wilkinson’s firestorm, Ten was already embroiled in a very public legal saga.
Murdoch, a popular boss affectionately known as “Bug” among his team, was personally named in the plague claim filed in federal court in February by Ten reporter Tegan George.
Tien’s political prodigy Peter van Onselen at the center of high-profile bullying case
Tegan George targeted both he and Ten’s political editor Peter Van Onselen, accusing the latter of undermining and humiliating her.
George took aim at both Murdoch and political editor, Peter Van Onselen, accusing the latter of undermining and humiliating her, including by making other journalists background her, according to the claim filed against the network in federal court.
Part of her claim statement also states that she was required to work “in a workplace that was hostile to women,” in violation of the Sex Discrimination Act.
And last week, George expanded her claim against the network for failing to rein in Van Onselen in the wake of her appearance in court in February.
Her lawyer Josh Bornstein, director of Maurice Blackburn, said that George demanded extra aggravated damages because of this.
“The management of Network Ten is not prepared to rein in Mr Van Onselen,” Bornstein claimed. “He continued to publicly defame Ms. George after she went to court, causing her immense distress.”
Obviously, the extension of the claim stems from Ten reportedly failing to prevent Van Onselen from “tormenting” her in social media posts.
Murdoch has sensationally fallen on his sword in the wake of the extensive claim and the George bullying case continues to divide newsrooms in both Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, where Van Onselen is the political editor.
According to an employee, Ten management has not given any indication as to who Murdoch’s replacement will be.