Craig Campbell: The Project’s ambition, achievements & evolution

• How The Project got better when hosts stopped trying to be funny

Network 10 and Roving Enterprises tonight are celebrating 10 years of their daily news program The Project.

A special edition of the program goes to air at 6.30pm Friday and then a celebration will be held afterwards.

The event is being hosted by Network 10’s CEO Paul Anderson and chief content officer Beverley McGarvey, plus the program’s creator and founding executive producer Craig Campbell.

A partner in The Project’s format owner Roving Enterprises, with Rove McManus, Campbell remains the show’s beating heart.

As Campbell explained to Mediaweek, after 10 years of five, and then six days a week, it doesn’t get boring.

Because the show is made up of whatever the day throws at you it keeps it fresh and exciting. We keep looking for ways on the production side to keep it different. We would probably get bored with it more than the audience do. We want to keep evolving and never stay the same.”

Despite the evolution, The Project has managed to keep many of the trademarks it launched with.

I looked at the pitch document we gave to 10 in January 2009 and the cornerstones of why we do what we are doing are still there. If anything we probably achieve them better now than we did in our first year.”

Early on the show was confusing to a lot of people because they didn’t know if we were a comedy show or a news show. The show really found its rhythm when we tried to stop being funny.”

Of the different challenges the format faced over the decade, Campbell noted, “The transition from a half hour to an hour was always testing. Also the first time we went to six days a week, the first time. The longer format allowed us to break serious news stories as well as reporting on the news.”

The show has had a couple of different timeslots over the years. Initially starting as 30 minutes Monday to Friday. “When we originally named it The 7pm Project I thought that would stop us being moved to another time! It was clearly not the case.

The Project seems to have been blessed with its choice of hosts and regular panellists. “Casting is never easy,” cautioned Campbell. “When Waleed Aly was a regular guest in our fourth chair he was such a good broadcaster that it was an easy decision to put him on when Charlie Pickering left. It might have been a hard choice for him to move from the ABC to the dark side of the commercial television industry. But it has obviously worked out very well, despite him having big shoes to fill.

Pete Helliar was just a natural fit and he was part of the Roving family for such a long time. As were both Carrie Bickmore and Hughesy when we initially launched.”

The show has a core support team that all seem to be good fits – Hamish Macdonald and Tommy Little on Sundays and other nights when required. “With Gorgi Coghlan and Lisa Wilkinson also in the mix we are incredibly lucky with the group of people we have.”

Campbell has been generous testing people for potential regular appearances. “I like to think everyone deserves two chances when they come on the show. The first time on the show for any presenter is hard work. There are actually not many people who have appeared once or twice and not come back. It is hard trying to juggle the people we want to come on and the others who want to come on.”

Campbell on misconceptions – it’s not a comedy show. “We sometimes book serious news people because we think they will give us some gravitas and they come on and try and be funny. We tell them not to morph into what they think we need from them. I am comfortable that most people who come on have a ‘day job’ as well as doing this show.”

Financial contribution: When asked if the show was profitable for 10, Campbell suggested we ask 10. “I am always told it is from within the walls of 10.”

Budgets. Campbell said the money available to produce the show hasn’t ballooned over the decade. “For a number of years the show maintained or even went down in budget. We know what we have to work with and we make sure we keep within that.”

The Project family: Roving Enterprises produces the show for 10 and there are a number of freelancers used on the show when needed. Campbell: “There is a core team of about 70 people working on The Project including our back of house infrastructure.”

FAQs: The Project at 10

Audience: Maximum in the Melbourne studio is 70. Sydney studio is 100.

Stories: “We aim for at least five main stories each night. There are six segments in total across the hour.”

Guests:We try for one main guest and some nights we are spoilt and end up with two. Some nights we might get three and I panic because I worry we are skewing the show into entertainment.”

Length: It’s not really an hour. “Our commercial hour is 43 and a half minutes.”

Comedians: “We don’t have to have comedian every night…at least a couple a week, but they need to have something to say.”

Segments: Themes and ideas come and go. “Dr Andrew Rochford used to do a weekly medical segment and Scott Pape used to have a regular finance segment called The Money Shot.”

Photo: The creator and founding EP of The Project Craig Campbell on the set in the show’s first year (Source: Mediaweek)

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