On Tuesday, Lisa Wilkinson was still “having a lovely sleep in” at 7.45am, her husband Peter FitzSimons told media camped outside the family’s Sydney home. “The best sleep in years.”
But while she was relaxed enough for a lie-in – followed that night by a dinner with her children that lasted until midnight – media insiders were in a tizzy over failed contract negotiations seeing Wilkinson leave Nine’s Today for Ten’s The Project.
Even with her arrival at the new network still months off, questions are already being asked about how Ten will best leverage Wilkinson’s popularity and experience.
“Perhaps The Project is just a vehicle to on-board Lisa,” an industry insider told The New Daily. “Get her known as a Ten face.”
Added the insider: “I’d imagine Ten’s new owner CBS has other ideas how to better use her profile, news sense and talent.
Ten might have breakfast TV ambitions again. Older female news journalists in the US are highly regarded and many headline their own shows.
“They don’t play anyone’s sidekick.”
More practical questions are also being asked. How will The Project look in 2018? Will Wilkinson leave Sydney to join Waleed Aly, Carrie Bickmore and Peter Helliar on the desk in Melbourne?
And, crucially, what do established big guns Aly and Bickmore really think about the new recruit’s scheduled start in January?
“We are crazy excited,” Bickmore, 36, said on air, calling her new colleague “a wonderful woman – smart, funny, down to earth”.
Aly, 39, joked that he had always “really loved Lisa and it is nice to contractually be able to say it now”.
While that all sounds terrific, insiders say in an industry rife with egos, new arrivals are sometimes hard to accommodate in an established hit line-up.
“How can you have a panel with such opinionated people yelling over the top of each other?” said the industry source.
“It’s bad TV. People are having dinner. It would be like watching Q&A Lite every night.”
The importation of Wilkinson, 57, could provide the start of an exit strategy for Bickmore, if she’s looking for one, say sources.
It has previously been reported she would like to return to radio in more family-friendly hours, but a source told The New Daily that Bickmore recently inked a new deal with The Project.
“Carrie is contracted to host the show four days a week and that role won’t change,” Craig Campbell, executive producer and creative director of production company Roving Enterprises, told The New Daily.
“Having these two strong, intelligent and independent women, both at the top of their game, on our team is a privilege.”
While Ten is keeping mum on fine details about the exact format of the 2018 show, “Lisa will be hosting our new Sunday edition of the show”, Mr Campbell said.
He added that she would be “joining the program during the week to share her expertise and insights with Carrie, Waleed and Pete”.
As to whether that means Wilkinson will be “joining” the crew in the Melbourne studio or long-distance, Mr Campbell did not comment.
“She won’t move to Melbourne – if you saw their house you’d know why,” said strategist Steve Allen.
“I doubt whether she’d be flown down every day. They might have two desks. That will be interesting, how they work out the logistics and what she’s agreed to.”
As to that, there are reports Wilkinson’s package could top $2 million a year with her base salary and other commercial contracts – reportedly more than Bickmore.