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Carrie Bickmore, Waleed Aly and Peter Helliar on The Project's biggest successes - and failures

As TV WEEK Logie Award-winning series The Project turns 10, its stars reveal the secret to its success.

By Cynthia Wang
Traditional gifts for a 10th anniversary include tin or aluminium.
But to celebrate The Project's 10-year milestone, the series that prides itself on being "news delivered differently" received a much bolder and bigger present: a solid piece of silver-hued hardware known as the TV WEEK Logie for Most Popular Panel Or Current Affairs Program.
"Our show is different in just about every way," 2016 Gold Logie winner Waleed Aly, 40, tells TV WEEK. "There is no other show – possibly in the world – that has the kind of combination we have. If you're doing entertainment and then doing comedy, it's very rare that you're going to be doing straight news as well."
Co-host Carrie Bickmore, who won the Gold Logie in 2015, adds that the secret to The Project's success lies in the people as well as the format.
"I've been blessed with such great chemistry from day one," Carrie, 38, says. "With Charlie Pickering at the start and now Waleed these last couple of years. Then, of course, Dave [Hughes] and Pete [Helliar] and everyone else."
She then adds with the show's trademark mix of candour and humour, "I still pinch myself, because I could have ended up with people who suck, and I didn't!"

Awkward start
Craig Campbell, then-creative director at Rove McManus' production company Roving Enterprises, had long wanted to do a panel show that blended interviews with news and laughs. But when the original series, called The 7PM Project, went to air in July 2009, the high concept fell flat.
"No-one really understood it," Craig admits now. "Maybe some were expecting a comedy show, and it wasn't just straight comedy."
As Carrie recounted onstage with a laugh at this year's TV WEEK Logie Awards, "I still remember the first episode. It was terrible, and Hughesy remarked at the end of it that that was his career done. I remember thinking, 'Sh*t – if that's what Hughesy's saying, I have no hope!'"
However, the nervous but eager team of Carrie, Charlie and Dave, along with roving reporters James Mathison and Ruby Rose, persevered.

The Melbourne-based weekday show added a live audience and started to draw a clearer line between funny segments and serious ones. With those tweaks, the co-hosts settled in and flourished.
"When you're doing a live show, you can't fake chemistry," Carrie explains. "You can't fake it and you need that certain dynamic to get the show to air, and that's what we have."
Real applause from a real crowd added more energy too, especially for international guests. "Amy Schumer is probably the best example," Peter, 44, says. "As soon as she saw the live audience, she loved it and was brilliant. I think that's our secret weapon. Even if guests aren't comedically minded, they're still performers and it's a real thrill."

Big shift
In 2014, comedian Peter took over Dave's spot on the panel, and in 2015, writer and lecturer Waleed filled Charlie's seat. Although they were familiar contributors already, the pair brought with them new segments, such as Peter's walkie-talkie viral videos, and a fresh outlook.
"I wanted to have some fun," Peter says, "but I knew I also couldn't just be the comedian at the end of the desk. There's too much going on to just let Carrie and Waleed, or whoever else is on the show, do the heavy lifting."
Craig believes that's why the show clicks now. "What we try to do with The Project is make sure everyone's voice is heard no matter what their lane is," he explains. "To have a comedian pivot with a serious question because they're interested in a topic has so much weight."

More the merrier
Joining the chorus of voices is a rotating group of panellists, including Gorgi Coghlan, Steve Price, Fifi Box, Ryan Fitzgerald and Rachel Corbett. Thursday, Friday and Sunday co-host Lisa Wilkinson and Sunday regulars Hamish Macdonald, Susie Youseff and Tommy Little round out the family.
"I feel blessed to have joined the show," Lisa, 59, says. "You don't get to be around for 10 years unless Australia says, 'We choose to watch and we choose to embrace the program.'"
But with more people with various points of view, disagreements will happen. The panellists insist they are more than prepared to take on those moments.
"Pricey [Steve Price] is a pretty integral part of the show, and he can be divisive," Peter says as an example. "But as soon as we go to a break, we usually give each other a wink and a laugh and go, 'Well, that was a bit tough!' But Waleed, Carrie and I aren't interested in manufacturing rage just to make good TV."
Carrie agrees. "It's a news show, but we have a laugh – in terms of stories and at ourselves," she says. "And I think laughter breaks down a lot of those barriers and helps build relationships with your colleagues."

Light and shade
When it's time to get serious, The Project crew proves nimble, with journalist Hamish filing reports from afar and Waleed providing analysis in the studio. But one much-dissected event was Waleed's interview in March with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the lead-up to the Federal election.
"I think because it turns up in a place people aren't necessarily expecting it, it attracts attention," Waleed says.
In contrast, when Homeland actor Mandy Patinkin came to the studio last year, no-one was more excited than Waleed. "I'm a big fan of [1987 movie] The Princess Bride," he reveals, "and that one I remember being nervous about!"
Hamish, 38, who has covered the Christchurch terrorist attacks and the Hong Kong street protests this year, admits, "I would never in a million years have imagined I'd co-host the program one day."
Recalls Gorgi, 43, "My favourite show by far was when Will Ferrell came on as Ron Burgundy. We had an Anchorman-off with Ray Martin – I've never laughed so hard."

The dream continues
But the crew don't have to look very far to be starstruck.
"I took a photo on air the other day," Peter says. "It's Waleed, Lisa and Magda Szubanski, and I'm like, 'Wow – three icons in one shot!'"
What will the next 10 years of The Project bring? Referencing the show's pledge to deliver news differently, Hamish says, "The kind of promise we have to ourselves is to always keep innovating, try to surprise the audience and do new things."
In the end, that's what makes the show so special, Gorgi declares.
"Whenever I talk to people," she says, "the biggest compliment is always, 'I love The Project. It helps me understand the news, but it gives me a laugh.'"

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