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For Waleed, it’s all about the work…

Never mind the diversity, Waleed Aly says his biggest contribution to The Project will be his editorial contribution.

waleed projNext Monday Waleed Aly takes a permanent chair on The Project panel alongside co-hosts Carrie Bickmore and Peter Helliar.

It should prove to be a relatively seamless transition for the broadcaster, given he has been part of the Project family for three years now, regularly hosting Fridays plus other temporary stints.

Replacing Charlie Pickering (Rove McManus was actually a Heather Locklear-style ‘guest host’) is therefore not quite as radical as some have made out, but Aly says the biggest difference is likely to be an editorial one.

“It may be a bit more newsy than when Rove was there, my editorial input will probably be different to his, and my interests are different,” he says.

“But I think Charlie and I were, and are, quite similar people in a lot of ways.

“So it may be that we end up doing a similar sort of job, but the show will naturally, and what I do will, evolve. I imagine the way I host it in February will be very different to the way I host it in September. And that will be something I don’t even foresee. It will just happen.

“It’s more that by being part of the editorial process I will bring a particular brain to it.

“I’m not coming in going ‘I’ve got a story on nursing homes that I’ve been wanting to get to air for 10 years.’”

Aly is a big believer in The Project format, for its ability to marry news and entertainment in a way that speaks to a broad audience.

“It’s an utterly unique beast in Australian TV at least, and maybe even more than that. I can’t think of another show that delivers not just News but Commentary in that kind of way, and therefore opens up that kind of audience. As someone who has worked at the ABC it was always a show held in very high regard amongst serious newsmakers because of the way it was able to communicate things. And therefore who it was able to talk to,” he observes.

“So I think that’s why every few months there’s a report about some other network trying to develop a show that is loosely based on it.

“So there is a sort of irreducible excitement about taking on a show that has quite an ambitious take to make worlds meet that just otherwise wouldn’t. (Worlds) a lot of other people find hard to make meet.

“So the fact I have been doing it for a while and feel comfortable in the environment and I like what the show is trying to achieve, in some ways it was a fairly straightforward decision.”

Taking a story that is not immediately entertaining but injecting it with entertainment is part of the show’s DNA. Aly recalls watching writers, producers and graphics staff find ways to communicate information in a digestible way for its audience.

“I saw them do a package once about community detention of asylum seekers and the costs associated with that as oppose to the costs of mandatory detention. What was interesting, leaving aside entirely the issue, was the way that much dense information (that was) difficult to take on board if you were trying to read it, was packaged and presented in a way that made it jump off the screen,” he recalls.

“Thinking about how I would have covered that on my ABC Radio show, it’s a very different thing.

“Creative ways of getting information across sometimes emerge quite late in the piece. Or someone has a bizarre idea that gets explored a bit and suddenly becomes feasible. One time interviewing Clive Palmer there were a whole range of issues we wanted to discuss on certain policy issues. So we decided in the end instead of just doing a straight interview where it’s very hard to get all of that information into a tight interview, we turned it into a game show.

The Project can do that where other shows can’t or don’t –partly because the expectation of the show is that it will do that, and it’s self-aware and self-deprecating enough to take those sort of risks.”

Comedy is also central to the show, but Aly has no plans to reinvent his on-screen persona.

“What I have been doing and the level of comedy that has been used in my performance so far seems to have been working. It’s certainly worked well enough for them to offer me the job!” he laughs.

“Charlie was keen to inject the commentary and news-hound side of himself, and in some ways I think that was what he wanted to demonstrate.

“We come at it from different angles, but we are actually very similar in a lot of ways. We found that out from working together and doing a Comedy Festival show together that sold out quickly and got good reviews.

“I figure if I’ve done a Comedy Festival show I can do The Project.”

Yet when Aly was announced as the new permanent co-host, much of the headlines focussed on his diverse background. Aly has Egyptian heritage and identifies as Sunni Muslim. His appointment was heralded as a breakthrough for a primetime commercial show, despite 3 years as part-time co-host.

“It’s interesting people noticed it. Maybe that’s a good they’re aware of it. But it’s not something (I’ve been) talking about,” he remarks.

“I won’t get up in the morning and think ‘Right, how can I be diverse today?’

“It’s never been a point of conversation with Channel TEN or Roving or anything like that. It’s just never come up and that’s probably the most encouraging development that there is.”

So would he prefer the media to focus more on his work than added diversity?

“Yes I think I would,” he says.

“People will take their own meaning from it, that’s true of the audience, the media, everybody. They will look at this and say ‘Wow there’s a non-white guy on TV.’ The fact that that’s remarkable is perhaps a bit sad but it doesn’t mean it’s the main agenda I want to push.

“It’s not really part of my job.”

Waleed Aly returns to The Project 6:30pm Monday on TEN.

16 Responses

  1. I didn’t know Rove had editorial input when he was there, but that does explain a lot. I’m so excited for Waleed to take the reigns and for The Project I know and love to return! (You know, I used to actually learn stuff on The Project.)

  2. I really like the balance of this team, should be a good year.

    @chivasssimo I really enjoy the episodes where both Carrie and Georgi are on the panel. I hope we see more of those before Carrie goes on mat. leave.

  3. I very much enjoy The Project…A good source of the news in brief….but in an entertaining way. I am amazed it does not rate better…and I think it will grow if Ten can get some major sports rights (AFL or NRL) in the future and general ratings increase.

    Interesting article….and Waleed comes across with a bit of an ego giving himself a good wrap. While his presentation skills are OK and I don’t have a problem with Waleed occasionally offering an opinion on-air….it does not mean he is always correct….So don’t push it down our throats every show…..that is not while you are there ….you are there to host……..and one other thing…..don’t think you are funny….cause you are not!

    One of the best guests hosts of recent times has been Gretel……so more of her please! She was informative, and funny.

  4. I’ve always found it not funny enough to be comedy and not news enough to be interesting but it seems there is enough of an audience for it. I still think Hellier might end up being the kiss of death for it

  5. Waleed is pretty much the only one who takes things seriously on that show, apart from Steve Price and a couple of other cameo guest panellists. It’s a shame he’ll spend most of the time with three clowns particularly when covering serious news issues.

  6. Very much looking forward to it. I would love to see more of a news focus on the show. For example, yesterday when they interviewed Joe Hockey there were little jokes in between. I definitely love the jokes and the comedy, but for something like that I think it should be kept as a serious interview. Also, I think Gorgi is much better than Carrie – there’s no constant giggling so the show flows better (Just my opinion). Here’s hoping The Project can grow in ratings and reputation in 2015!

  7. I know The Project has a lot of haters on this page. But I really like it! and I completely agree with Waleed’s comments about how its got good cut through with people who wouldn’t normally watch the news.
    They do a great job of making things understandable, especially some of those more complex things, they give overviews.

    I miss Charlie, and I’m looking forward to his new show. But the Project is still pretty much my only source of news.

  8. This is a great threesome, love Peter, the best comedian on The Project, no one can replace Carrie and Aly is 100% even tho I miss Charlie. Rove just tried too hard to be funny. Didn’t work. Miss Charlie’s passionate and heated moments. Hope we see more of him somewhere. Aly is a great fit.

  9. Industry folk wanting to sell their ideas to simpletons is not the same as making current affairs for the everyperson.
    I like Waleed, but I feel he protests too much. Like, we all know Carrie Bickmore knows nothing about anything even after doing a news reader voice while she reads a script for 10 years. That’s the kind of truth bomb that would get me on side.

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