Into battle: Lisa Wilkinson goes head-to-head with big sports events in her debut on The Project for Ten. Picture Jonathan Ng
Into battle: Lisa Wilkinson goes head-to-head with big sports events in her debut on The Project for Ten. Picture Jonathan Ng

Lisa versus the men ... again

IT'S the TV programming version of a tennis grand slam final featuring a wildcard player versus the world number one.

Lisa Wilkinson is no rookie wildcard, but the scheduling of her debut as host of The Project on Sunday night against the Australian Open men's tennis final certainly cast her in the role of underdog.

Wilkinson's much-vaunted debut for Channel Ten will see her pitted against the ratings-smashing end of the tennis on Channel Seven.

Meanwhile, Nine, the network she walked away from last year over a pay parity dispute, will bowl up the latest one-day cricket match between Australia and England in the same 6.30pm timeslot.

With last Sunday night's top-rating five shows - live sport, news, and live sport (Seven's Australian Open coverage topped 1.16 million viewers, news on both channels pulled over a million and Nine's cricket coverage neared one million) - Ten isn't making it an easy start for their shiny new star.

It will be banking on pulling in viewers on the back of her star power, and the fact it will launch it's popular reality offering, I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, as an alternative to sport on the box, as Wilkinson enters the prime time ratings jungle.

Wilkinson has reportedly confessed she's nervous about her new gig, but eager to take up the new challenge.

 

And ironically, even ordinary prime-time ratings will see her exposed to a wider audience than she was on a daily basis at her old gig on Today - even if the average viewer numbers are similar, The Project skews to a younger demographic.

While some have dismissed The Project, especially its Sunday edition which was resurrected last year as Ten's Sunday night viewer figures foundered, it pulls in more viewers than breakfast television, and punches above its weight in Ten's younger demographic target audience.

During the week, The Project pulls in an average about half a million viewers. Ten says if you include online catch-up, that average spins out to 644,00.

Sunrise last year averaged 527,000 viewers nationally. Today's average was about 437,000 daily.

“I feel like I’m living in the real world again,” says Wilkinson Picture: Supplied.
“I feel like I’m living in the real world again,” says Wilkinson Picture: Supplied.

On Sundays, The Project's average last year was 399,000 including online catch-ups across its full hour.

That said, breakfast TV ratings average figures always look small, because few people watch them for hours from start to finish.

Meanwhile, as Lisa's replacement on Today, Georgie Gardner, took up hosting duties beside Karl Stefanovic this week, rival Sunrise was still narrowly winning the breakfast TV ratings race.

On Monday, Georgie's first day at the desk, Today drew a national audience of 378,000, beaten by Sunrise with 480,000. The five-city metropolitan figures saw Sunrise with 281,000 viewers to Today's 256,000.

WHAT'S LISA BEEN UP TO?

Wilkinson has enjoyed three months gardening leave - where she reportedly even actually did some gardening, since her "mic-drop" exit from Channel Nine in October last year.

She doesn't miss Today's 3am starts - "I feel like I'm living in the real world again", she said last week - but she has been missing TV.

She has reportedly confessed to a few nerves, but told news.com.au last week she's looking forward to stretching her wings.

"One of the many things that was really attractive about the offer to join The Project [was] doing longer form journalism and to deal with issues that probably aren't appropriate at breakfast time," she said.

"There were times when there were issues I wanted to cover on the show but it wasn't considered right for the timeslot.

It’s all sweet: Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic have lunch together in Sydney in the wake of her shock departure from Today. Picture: Instagram
It’s all sweet: Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic have lunch together in Sydney in the wake of her shock departure from Today. Picture: Instagram

"So to be able to stretch my wings journalistically is something that was really attractive part of going to The Project."

Wilkinson will host the show on Sundays, and also join the panel on Thursdays and Fridays.

She will also head up Ten's digital offering as editor-in-chief of Ten Daily, drawing on her early career experience as a magazine editor.

While Nine bickered over who left who in relation to Lisa's shock departure, class is when people say they're running you out of town, but you look like you're leading the parade.

Her departure prompted a massive debate on the issue of pay parity for men and women.

It also netted her a rumoured sizeable $2 million-plus payday: well above the $1.1 million she was supposedly being paid at Nine, and supposedly on par with Stefanovic's rumoured salary.

It also meant she had to hose down rumours of a feud with Carrie Bickmore amid whispers her new The Project colleagues weren't happy with her pay check.

"We refuse to engage in it, because it would only give it credibility and there is no truth to it. Carrie and I have been mates for years," Wilkinson said.

She has remained gracious about her departure, telling TV Week: "It was a privilege to be part of the Today show team for more than a decade. I leave behind wonderful experiences and cherished friendships. But it was time to set myself some new challenges."

Wilkinson has spent the three months off doing the things she couldn't do when she was with Nine and Today.

Like having Christmas Eve with her family in Sydney for the first time in years, rather than hosting Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne for Nine.
She caught up with Karl for lunch - faithfully instagramming the reunion - and is just back from a whirlwind trip to New York with her husband, Peter Fitzsimons.

And then there was New Year's Eve watching the fireworks at a party hosted by mates including Hugh Jackman and Deborra-lee Furness.

Her troublesome arm, which she busted while holidaying in Greece last year, continues to strengthen thanks to rehab and time to focus on her health.

Who knows, it might be capable of raising a Logie some time ... perhaps for The Project.

Wilkinson celebrates the new year with Hugh Jackman and Deborra Lee. Picture: Instagram/Lisa Wilkinson
Wilkinson celebrates the new year with Hugh Jackman and Deborra Lee. Picture: Instagram/Lisa Wilkinson


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