Every Monday when I turn up at Network Ten’s South Yarra headquarters in Melbourne to fill the fourth seat on The Project, I’m reminded just how Covid-19 has changed things.
By Steve Price.
For 10 years the program and the producers held a pre-show content meeting around a conference table on the fourth floor. Producers would pitch the story rundowns for that night’s show, we would debate questions and debate ideas.
After that meeting a visit to the fifth floor for hair and makeup – a process I still dislike – often ended up with a continuing debate between myself, Waleed Ali, Carrie Bickmore and Pete Helliar.
It was robust and constructive debate. Strong opinions were aired, and I am sure the end product made for a superior show. After hair and make-up, we would end up on the main desk with Pete at the far left for viewers and me on the right.
Plenty of people observed that was the appropriate positioning although I’m less convinced having Waleed in the centre fits that argument.
Oh, how I wished those pre-Covid-19 protocols still existed. Like every other business in Australia TV has changed radically and been forced to pivot to survive.
Staff at Ten have been cut to survive a Covid world although The Project has managed to retain its numbers and ratings. Monday visits to the desk are now very different from what they were back in March.
It might sound like a minor change, but I am no longer allowed to sit on the main desk. Instead I am on the same floor but in an adjacent studio on my own with a camera operator and studio director.
That means casual conversation between the four of us during commercial breaks is no longer possible. I still have an audio link but no physical eye contact. This also means when on air live, I have to judge when to intervene in an interview with a verbal interjection and no opportunity to use a hand signal or eye contact to jump in.
Another Covid-19 victim was our live audience. For 10 years about five rows at the back of the studio was filled with a clapping, whooping, laughing group drawn from the suburbs of Melbourne or more likely from a collection of backpackers, tourists, or program sponsors.
The Project employed a collection of warm-up guys to get the audience fired up and Pete Helliar would always stage a mini stand-up comedy show to lighten the mood.
Not since social distancing was introduced has there been a live audience and I seriously believe that may never happen again.
These physical changes because of Covid-19 also impact on the program content. As an example, guests in my 10 years have included everyone from Elmo the Sesame Street puppet to then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and a bevy of actors, comedians and musicians, have been banned from the studio.
No face to face debates, instead like many other Australians we have had to resort to Skype, Zoom or FaceTime – great technology but I can tell you without any fear of contradiction eye-balling a dodgy politician is much more fun face-to-face.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also impacted many other areas of the media. Radio programs I appear on have been forced to vacate brick and mortar studios with presenters hooked up with digital studios installed at home.
Eddie McGuire from Triple M’s hot breakfast broadcasts from his Toorak home, from an AFL established hotel hub on the Gold Coast and from Nine studios in Queensland.
Ray Hadley from Sydney’s 2GB has mostly been broadcasting from home but I also ran into him broadcasting from a back room at his golf club in Sydney’s north-west.
AFL games have been called remotely by commentators Brian Taylor and Bruce McAvaney on the Seven Network from two different states off TV monitors with canned crowd noises.
You can trust me, that’s a lot harder than it looks but the success of these Covid-imposed changes will have a lasting impact on how Australia’s media works.
Media CEO’s have realised it’s possible to do things a lot more simply and more cheaply. Like the rest of the Australian workforce, Covid-19 has changed your media forever and I doubt things will ever return to the way they were.
About Steve Price
Steve Price is a national media figure appearing on TV, radio and in print across the country. He is a panellist on Network Ten’s The Project and appears weekly on Melbourne’s Triple M Hot Breakfast program and most recently presented a networked radio talk-back program across Australia.
He has just launched two podcasts on the podcast platforms ‘On The Record’ – a behind the scenes chat with the biggest names in Australian media – and ‘On The Road’ – a travel podcast featuring Australian and Overseas travel tips.
Steve appeared on Season 3 of Ten’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here lasting 43 days and won the Christmas edition of Celebrity Come Dine with Me on Foxtel. He started his journalism career in print with the Adelaide News before shifting to the afternoon Melbourne Herald finishing as Deputy Editor before joining 3AW Melbourne as chief content director and Drive presenter.
In 2002 he shifted to Sydney’s 2UE presenting the breakfast, drive and morning programs networked around Australia.