The truth about Lisa Wilkinson's 'embarrassing' Sunday Project ratings
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The truth about Lisa Wilkinson's 'embarrassing' Sunday Project ratings

One year after quitting the Today show, she faces persistent claims her numbers have tanked.

Serena Williams, Celine Dion, Bradley Cooper, David Beckham, Kylie Minogue: to the frustration of Network 10's competitors, all have chosen to be interviewed by Lisa Wilkinson on The Sunday Project this year. "It is laughable," one rival executive told The Daily Telegraph, insisting such stars are wasting their time on a program "no one is watching".

One year after she quit Nine’s Today show over a pay dispute, Wilkinson is still dogged by claims she has been ratings poison for The Sunday Project. Some outlets have branded her a "failed experiment" and "faded star"; others assert her audience has "halved". This week, a fresh batch of headlines declared her "embarrassing" performance could trigger the show's cancellation.

Ironically, such claims rest upon her early success.

Amidst a blaze of publicity, her Sunday Project debut in January drove ratings to a high of 813,000 – more than double the previous week's audience. "There were four months of relentless [media coverage] between me leaving Today and starting on The Project," Wilkinson says. "There was always going to be a bump for that first episode."

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That bump was eclipsed last month when her interview with controversial Bachelor star Nick Cummins lifted the audience to 884,000.

Lisa Wilkinson co-hosts the Friday and Sunday editions of The Project, edits the 10 Daily website and narrates Ambulance Australia.

Lisa Wilkinson co-hosts the Friday and Sunday editions of The Project, edits the 10 Daily website and narrates Ambulance Australia.Credit:Janie Barrett

Since Wilkinson arrived, the program's 7pm segment has grown by 26 per cent to a national average of 550,000, while the 6.30pm slot is up 6 per cent to 372,000. "I don’t know of any other [long-running] show that's experienced this kind of growth in 2018," she says.

As for rumours that 60 Minutes and Sunday Night are irritated by her celebrity exclusives? "I find their grumbling amusing," she says.

But while her A-list interviews attract the most attention, other stories have left a lasting impression on her, including the murder of Eurydice Dixon and the death of Sam Ballard. Last week, Wilkinson attended the funeral of 29-year-old Ballard, who became incapacitated by an infection after eating a slug on a dare in 2010. A few months earlier, she had interviewed Ballard's mother, Katie, who fell into debt after his National Disability Insurance Scheme funding was slashed from $492,000 to $135,000. A public outcry helped reverse the cut, which the federal government blamed on an "error".

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This year, Wilkinson is juggling three jobs: co-hosting the Friday and Sunday editions of The Project, editing the 10 Daily website and narrating Ambulance Australia.

In a recent episode of the documentary series, a woman called for help after her jaw was knocked out of place. Though it was clear she'd been attacked, she insisted she'd fallen down the stairs.

With her consent – and respecting her desire for anonymity – producers put her story to air. "She said if anything good can come out of this, she wanted to do it," Wilkinson says. "But her situation is still not good.

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"The messages I'm getting about the show are that parents are sitting down with their kids and using it as a trigger to talk through the important themes we cover."

Over the years, Wilkinson has repeatedly called for shelters and helplines to be properly funded. More broadly, the lack of resources is apparent the moment some people ring triple zero.

"There are simply more crises than they can handle," she says.

"It’s heartbreaking to see the call centre staff have to make decisions about who gets priority and whose lives are left hanging in the balance. I really hope this puts pressure on the government to not allow this to continue."

Michael Lallo is a Senior Entertainment Writer for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. Michael joined Fairfax Media in 2006 as a feature writer. He has also been a news reporter for The Sunday Age, a deputy editor of Green Guide and a columnist and critic.

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