Dear CH10, What The F$$K Have You Done?

Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston  and  George Calombaris  image - TheBragg.com

Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris
image - TheBragg.com

It was the 4pm media release that stunned the Australian Entertainment Industry. After 11 years of delivering big audiences, and significant revenue, the 10 Network had decided to let its three biggest stars walk out the door.

Why would they do it? Through lean years, redundancies, and receivership, MasterChef Australia has been the glue holding 10 together. So now, right when things are finally starting to turn around for the beleaguered network, why would they risk it all?

Sure, there have been some recent negative headlines; a restaurant business connected to George Calombaris was found to be underpaying staff. In a society fuelled by outrage, it made perfect fodder for tabloid newspapers and keyboard warriors.

But does anyone believe Calombaris, who spends much of his year travelling the world, or in a TV studio, was personally spending his remaining spare hours staring into an Excel spreadsheet, scheming new ways to screw over hard-working staff?

Last year, Karl Stefanovic was the most hated man on Australian television, "he has to go!" the media cried. Now many of those same pundits consider Karl the person capable of saving Today.

It cannot be underestimated just how vital MasterChef Australia has been for 10. The format originally acquired from the UK in 2009, was turbocharged for prime-time Australian television. The decision to air it across multiple nights stunned observers, but the move was an instant success.

MasterChef Australia may not be ratings hit it once was, but it still provides a consistently loyal, engaged audience for 10. Masterchef and HYBPA average around 200k more per episode than just about anything else on the network. The program is still a big hit with advertisers too; the friendly reality format accommodates plenty of integration with a wide variety of Retail, Food, Beverage and Tourism providers. 

If reports are to be believed, the three judges were seeking a combined sum of $9million to continue hosting the show for the next two years. At first glance that might seem like a mighty sum of money, but Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris are global superstars. The Australian edition of MasterChef is broadcast in over 180 countries. The trio delivers 60 episodes of prime-time TV each year, with each season taking around five months to produce.

Compare that to the $100million the network recently forked out to secure the Melbourne Cup Carnival, one week of horse racing per year, not even broadcast in prime-time.

In confirming the Masterchef Australia exit, the networks CEO Paul Anderson told media outlets;

"The true heroes of the show are the contestants, and I don't think we should lose sight of that. (MasterChef) attracts great talent like Curtis Stone and Gordon Ramsay, and I'm sure there's going to be no shortage of people putting their hands up to be part of our new judging panel."

Clearly, Anderson believes the format of the show is more significant than the three judges. Perhaps he is right, but he would do well to remember the very reason big-name international guests like Nigella Lawson and Heston Blumenthal are so willing to appear on the show is that they share so much love and respect for Gary, Matt and George.

Many comparisons will be made between this MasterChef exit, and the changes that occurred on one of the world's most successful franchises, Top Gear. The BBC motoring program was a money-making machine for all involved, but negative headlines and some boorish behaviour from Jeremy Clarkson caused the BBC to get nervous. Multiple hosting line-ups have been tried on Top Gear in the years since. The show has never recovered.

Closer to home, NINE is still in recovery mode from the departure of Lisa Wilkinson. In 2017 the network was unwilling to find a few extra dollars to secure one of its biggest stars. Wilkinson was co-hosting over 17 hours of national LIVE TV per week, the Today program had momentum and was finally causing real headaches for SEVEN. Her sudden departure broke up the priceless chemistry shared with Karl Stefanovic; Today soon imploded in a move that has likely now set NINE back a decade.

So, what now for Gary, Matt and George? The trio are unlikely to be off our screens for long. Negotiations with International production studios have been in the works for months, and plans for new tv formats will be accelerated now the trio are clear from their 10 commitments.

Will they find the same level of success as they have on MasterChef Australia? That's hard to say; Lightning rarely strikes the same place twice. But Matt, Gary and George will get their big payday, while for ch10 it's back to square one.