COMMENT

Stick around ... <i>MasterChef</i> Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston aren't going anywhere.

Sticking around ... MasterChef Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston are set to return.

At first glance, last night's MasterChef grand final ratings are a disaster. The audience was less than half the size of last year's – and barely a quarter of 2010's. Cue rumours of the show's imminent demise.

True, MasterChef is not the ratings behemoth it once was. But Ten would be mad to get rid of it. Just because its numbers are down doesn't mean it's a dud.

Dark horse ... <i>MasterChef</i> winner Emma.

Dark horse ... MasterChef winner Emma Dean.

Last night, 1.06 million people watched Emma Dean claim victory. That's the same number of people who watched Patrick die on Offspring a few weeks ago – and that was hailed as a ratings victory for Network Ten.

Of course, it's all a matter of perspective. Offspring's numbers were higher than usual, whereas last night's MasterChef audience was way down. Yet an audience of more than 1 million people is a good result whichever way you look at it. And for Ten, which has slipped to fourth place behind ABC1, these numbers are not to be sneezed at.

The MasterChef episodes leading up to last night's finale drew an average of several hundred thousand viewers and were beaten by pretty much everything Seven and Nine threw against them. Even so, it remains one of Ten's best performing series.

Of course, this reflects the fact Ten has so few top-rating programs in its line-up. It needs more hit shows and it needs them urgently. Scrapping MasterChef in the absence of a better alternative, therefore, would be courting disaster.

Besides, the axe has already swung ... sort of. Yesterday, Ten cancelled every MasterChef spin-off, including the celebrity, all-star, professional and kids versions.

It was a wise move. Even though the show is in its fifth year, it has already notched up 10 seasons if you count the spin-offs. Viewers are fatigued.

A back-to-basics approach next year – without the silly "boy versus girl" gimmicks of this season – could breathe new life into the program.

Even though its audience has dwindled, Ten's bean-counters know its true value beyond the raw ratings. Last night, for instance, the winner announcement segment was No. 1 among Ten's target audience of 25 to 54-year-olds. The series is chock-full of cross-promotional shots of its sponsors' products. It's light-hearted, engaging and puts people in a good mood. All of these things are very important to advertisers.

Five years ago, MasterChef captured the public's imagination. Since then, it has spread itself too thin and stumbled occasionally in its casting and execution. For many, the gloss has worn off.

Yet it retains a loyal audience. By and large, it's still a good show. It might never return to its glory days but there's plenty of life in the format.

Don't write off MasterChef just yet.

mlallo@fairfaxmedia.com.au