How the deal went down: inside Nine's Wilkinson star chamber


How the deal went down: inside Nine's Wilkinson star chamber - 17th October 2017

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Lisa Wilkinson will join Channel Ten's The Project in the new year. Photo: James Brickwood


by Andrew Hornery

For Channel Nine chief executive officer Hugh Marks, it was an obvious choice: meet one of his biggest paid star's demands and cut 10 jobs or risk losing the star to another network.

"If she got what she wanted we would have had to cut 10 producers' jobs ... that is the reality," a senior network insider told Fairfax Media on Tuesday morning as reverberations continued about the sudden departure of Lisa Wilkinson from the co-host's chair on Today.

An official statement said Wilkinson, 57, and Nine, had been unable to come to an agreement on the terms of her contract.

Soon after Wilkinson took to social media to announce she was joining Channel Ten's youth-focussed news show The Project in the new year, an odd move according to some industry observers given the show's demographics.

And how much is the financially embattled Ten actually paying her? It remains a mystery, though there is growing doubt it is $2 million given The Project's existing stars, including Gold Logie winning Carrie Bickmore, are on far less than that.

Usually big stars from Nine decamp to the most obvious rival: Channel Seven. However senior executives within Seven say there was no negotiation or even discussion happening with Wilkinson.

Marks' decision which resulted in Wilkinson's shock departure also "ripped the bandaid" off months of fraught negotiations between the television host, her agent Nick Fordham, Marks and Nine's news director Darren Wick.

Fordham was still meeting with Marks and Wick at 5pm on Monday afternoon at Nine's Willoughby headquarters when negotiations collapsed, though sources within the network insist the package being offered to Wilkinson was almost at the $2 million mark, the amount she was demanding in order to renew her contract.

However not all of the offer was in cash, with a special "package" crafted for Wilkinson which incorporated potentially new lucrative endorsement deals via Nine's sales department.

There were also other incentives to contribute to Nine's own digital offering, rather than her current deal to write for the US-based website Huffington Post.

But none of it was enough for Wilkinson, who was demanding "parity" with her co-host Karl Stefanovic, who was widely reported to have signed a $2 million per annum, three-year deal, with Nine - a deal negotiated when he was about to jump ship to rival Channel Seven and anchor the 6pm Sydney news.

But Stefanovic's deal with Nine also covers his gig hosting a prime-time television program which brings in over a million viewers, three times the number of Today, as well as his role as a sometime reporter on 60 Minutes and the go-to reporter for major breaking news events.

And that was part of the issue for Wilkinson, who had expressed her frustration at the lack of prime time opportunities on Nine, and that she was often overlooked to handle the "big" stories.

On Monday night those who have worked closest, including Stefanovic, discovered Wilkinson was gone, not long before the rest of the country.

While Stefanovic did not return PS's calls, an insider on Today told PS: "To be honest, there is a sense of renewed energy today ... we have something to prove now ... most of us work as a team."

Nine management is also known to have grown weary of Wilkinson's pursuit of personal publicity in recent months, from her recent renewal of her vows to a questionable report about "Team Lisa" being launched to get her a Gold Logie next year.

Nine management had also expressed serious reservations about her rumoured $250,000 deal to spruik garlic supplements, as PS was told: "it posed a threat to her credibility as a legitimate news journalist and commentator".

And it did, with Media Watch devoting a particularly stinging segment on the deal and questioning the ethics of Wilkinson spruiking a product of dubious scientific evidence to back up its claims.

But the final proverbial straw came on Sunday when sensitive details about her contract negotiations with Nine were leaked in the Murdoch press, seen by many as a strategy to increase pressure on Marks to meet Wilkinson's terms.

"Well, we didn't leak that story ... but to be honest, I think it backfired ... negotiations should never been done in the Sunday papers ... Hugh is very much against that sort of thing," the Nine insider revealed.

(The Sydney Morning Herald)