Carrie Bickmore was furious when it was revealed Ten had secured Today's Lisa Wilkinson for $2 million to "save" The Project, and insiders fear the show isn't big enough for the two stars.
"There's a lot of tension behind the scenes," says one producer, who reveals Carrie feels humiliated as more details of Lisa's massive deal emerge.
"Lisa is getting paid all that money for just two nights a week on camera, and she wants all the best stories here and overseas. Now she wants her air dates changed. Where does that leave Carrie?"
Ten has gone to great lengths to hose down rumours of a feud between the two women, and both Carrie Bickmore, 37, and Lisa Wilkinson, 58, have publicly denied any rift, but Ten insiders confirmed last week there is no love lost between them.
"It's all smoke and mirrors," says one source.
"Everyone in TV knows when a network's publicity department is going all out to deny something, like a feud, then there's probably some truth to the rumour. There have been some very awkward moments."
It began with speculation that Lisa was being paid up to $2.3m, compared to Carrie's estimated $500,000 salary. And it has only escalated since then as more details emerge of the special clauses in Lisa's contract.
When Ita Buttrose sensationally quit Studio 10 earlier this year, it was revealed she and the Ten CEO were the only network employees entitled to fly business class, but Lisa also negotiated business class travel when she joined Ten.
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All the glory
"Wardrobe restrictions also don't apply to Lisa," reveals another source.
"And she uses her own personal stylist, who supplies pieces from her favourite designers. Whereas Carrie just wears what she's told to wear."
But perhaps the biggest source of tension is the belief that Lisa has effectively stolen Carrie's thunder in terms of accessing big stars and the most coveted interviews – with a contractual clause promising her first rights.
"I know that Carrie was beyond annoyed Lisa's list of demands were agreed by the big bosses. But what really rankled was they agreed Lisa would be the showcase presenter and do all the big interviews," our source says.
"Of course, she's not going to say that publicly, but I think you'll find privately it's a different story. Who wouldn't be filthy to be relegated to second place after effectively holding a program together for years?"
Both Lisa and Carrie have denied persistent rumours of a feud, which started after The Daily Telegraph alleged in October that Carrie was "pissed off" at Lisa being given a seat on The Project.
Lisa labelled the rumours "complete fiction" in January, while Carrie said she "couldn't be more excited to be working with her" in February. But three months on and the rumours have only increased, with reports of off-air tension and jealousy.
To answer her critics, Lisa – who is renowned for her work ethic – has also been desperately working to secure big interviews and validate her huge salary, but has found it difficult because of Ten's budget and The Project's relatively low ratings.
"I know she's reached out personally to a lot of people the media have been chasing... but hasn't been able to get them over the line," a source says.
Worth the money?
"The bottom line is Lisa is not delivering what they all believed she could, and Carrie is sitting back wondering why Lisa is paid so much, why the special treatment, why the business class flights, why the limo drivers... at a network that is fighting to survive."
Lisa has also made no secret of the fact she "hates" flying down to Melbourne from Sydney on Friday, then returning to Sydney on Saturday, only to do it all over again on Sunday – and wants her on-air dates changed.
"If that happens, then Carrie will have to start working Fridays again, and I really think that could tip her over the edge," our source says.
"She has young children, and she's not going to want to change her schedule to fit in with Lisa. It'd be a real slap in the face. It's only a matter of time before this stoush turns even nastier. I'm not sure The Project is big enough for the two of them."