Are there problems brewing on Network Ten's The Project?

Waleed Aly and Carrie Bickmore bicker on The Project. Photo: Network Ten
Waleed Aly and Carrie Bickmore bicker on The Project. Photo: Network Ten

For people who need their news delivered with slick animated graphics and funky midi files, The Project has always been consistently reliable.

Ever since Waleed Aly permanently joined Carrie Bickmore on the hosting desk in 2015, the show's been a comfy pre-dinner favourite among viewers, even earning the duo a Gold Logie apiece.

But there's something odd brewing in the water cooler over at the show's South Yarra studios, because the past week has been a disaster.

Perhaps with useful punching bag Steve Price out in the South African jungle, the two have been forced to find a rage outlet in each other. But the on-screen chemistry between Aly and Bickmore, once the show's charming bread-and-butter, is looking a tad antagonistic after a couple of notable on-air spats.

On Tuesday night's episode, a jokey news segment about "people-carrying drones" (flying taxis that are already carrying passengers over the city skies of Dubai) saw Bickmore snapping back at Aly, accusing him of wanting "to pick a fight" over any ol' nonsense.

Aly interrupted the silly segment twice with the vigour of a high school debater, first to argue against the hypothetical dangers of propeller-driven death traps and then to curb a Peter Helliar joke about how many footballers would need to be strapped to Dane Swan so he could float in the ocean.

"Waleed, come on! Stop picking a fight..." a clearly exasperated Bickmore told Aly, before trailing off raspily.

Helliar looked to smoothen the dispute with a conciliatory "I agree with Carrie, stop bringing logic to this show!", but the uncomfortable vibe was already set.

It's the show's second awkward incident in as many days.

On Monday, Aly earned the ire of sensitive office workers everywhere, after an off-the-cuff gag suggesting that all admin people are bogans.

The joke drew outraged gasps from Ten's studio audience, which was apparently half-filled with admin people and/or bogans, and angry comments filtered in from viewers online.

"You want to say anything to the bogans of Australia?" Bickmore asked Aly, noting the viewer backlash.

"Should I clarify?" Aly back-pedalled. "The idea that admin people are bogans is ridiculous, but it came out the wrong way around."

Sure, they're just a couple of lighthearted arguments from longtime co-workers. But it also signals a weird direction for the duo, echoing the tired 'controversial male host and exasperated female host' format that usually make-up these TV panel shows and that The Project was always a refreshing departure from.

We've already got enough of Lisa Wilkinson rolling her eyes at Karl Stefanovic's latest shenanigans, or Sam Armytage forced to deal with Kochie's latest rant – do we really need Bickmore and Aly in these roles now?

With his explainer videos and devil's advocate interviewer-style, Aly has always offered a more thoughtful perspective to the usual bloviating antics we got from those other TV loudmouths.

And Bickmore, with her personable delivery and insightful asides, made the perfect on-set co-anchor.

But the recent descent into traditional back-and-forth hysterics is a bad look for a show that once seemed a little bit different, goofy midi files and all.

This story Are there problems brewing on Network Ten's The Project? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.