Lisa Wilkinson’s sudden exit from The Project this week came as a big surprise to viewers – and it looks like at least one of her co-hosts was caught off guard too.
Peter Helliar, who also announced he was leaving the show this week, told Nova’s Fitzy and Wippa on Wednesday morning that he learned of Wilkinson’s resignation shortly before the rest of Australia did.
“I have to say, Lisa took me by surprise on Sunday,” he told radio hosts, admitting he “didn’t know” it would happen.
“Actually, I didn’t know about it until Sunday. She wrote to me on Sunday to let me know.”
Late-night panel program Ten is experiencing something of a mass exodus, with original host Carrie Bickmore revealing last month that she won’t be returning in 2023, and Wilkinson and Helliar have followed suit this week.
Bickmore will appear on Project the last time next Wednesday, November 30, and Wilkinson had already finished.
The dramatic upheaval sparked a lot of speculation in the industry that Projectwho struggled in the rankings is clearing decks to make room for a rebrand.
However, Helliar, 47, denied allegations that he was kicked out, insisting that Fitzi and Whippa mulled over their decision “for a fair amount of the year.”
“Seeing Carrie calling [to leave]I think that gave me… It’s hard to leave a show that works. I’ve seen people leave shows that were running and I’ve always thought, “Why would you want to leave?” he told the hosts.
“But I have been working in the building for over 10 years; This is madness.”
Whippa then asked if there was “some controversy” around Wilkinson’s apparently sudden decision given that the Bickmore and Helliar announcements had been in the works “for a while”.
Although Helliar denied that there were any other problems with the game, he admitted that his co-host had some problems.
“I saw it with my own eyes – [Lisa’s] it’s been an incredibly rough year to be completely honest and there are clearly some things going on in the world and she felt like she needed to take a break,” he said.
“I don’t want to speak on behalf of Lisa, she is amazing. I just think that sometimes people are subjected to public pressure, and it’s not just about them, it’s about their family, and it takes its toll.”
Helliar added, “I think Lisa is making a very brave choice for herself and her family.”
On Sunday evening, Wilkinson announced she was leaving.Project five years later, citing a difficult past six months marked by “relentless targeted toxicity”.
“It’s time to reprioritize some things in my life,” Wilkinson told viewers.
She said it was “an absolute privilege” for her to work with an “incredible team” at Ten, whom she called one of the “most talented and decent people I know.”
“I had the ball. But for me, it’s time for a change right now,” she said.
“The last six months have not been easy, and the relentless targeted toxicity of some sections of the media has taken its toll not only on me but on the people I love.
“Do not misunderstand me. I’m not above criticism, far from it. I’m human and I don’t always get it right. None of us do this.
But damn it, I tried. I have given this job everything I have. And I hope you know this at home. I hope I have told you important stories and introduced you to people whose lives and experiences would otherwise never have been told, and helped bring attention to issues that deserve our collective attention.”
Just two days later, Helliar announced that he was also leaving, citing other professional obligations.
“It’s been something on my mind for some time. People will read the situation however they want, but I feel like I need to create some space for some of the projects that I want to work on,” he said.
“But [Carrie Bickmore] said you’re glad you’re leaving Project while you still love it and I still love the show. I am really. This means a lot to me. It has done amazing things for me.
“I once interviewed Luke Skywalker. And that meant a lot. And I’m looking forward to seeing what the show will be like in the future.”
After the resignation, showbiz commentator Peter Ford, who can be heard on radio across Australia, said several of the show’s stars may not be returning in 2023.
He stated that the network was also “playing seriously not to bring back the Sunday version of the show, which never took off” and would revamp the sets and cast.
“This is the last desperate attempt to save it, but whether the brand is already too tarnished, only time will tell,” he said.
“Just look at the ratings to understand that for the money they give out, the return is not enough, and this has not happened for a long time.
“This is the first major shake-up in history; they’ve made adjustments to the show in the past, but it’s either do or die. I think the way the show was going was going downhill and it wasn’t going to bounce back.”
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