Charm offensive brings Karl back to breakfast
When Karl Stefanovic returns to the helm of the Today show next year Nine bosses will be holding their breath and praying seven is his lucky number. That’s the number of female co-hosts Stefanovic has been paired with across 14 unsuccessful* seasons at Today.
And despite the churn of clever women through the program’s ranks since 2005 — the last two, Georgie Gardner and Deb Knight, dumped on the Today scrap heap last month following Nine’s latest failed reboot of the breakfast show — Stefanovic endures, having once again whispered into the ear of a CEO and promised without proof of evidence something he is yet to deliver to Nine, a sustained ratings win.
The man persuaded of Stefanovic’s comeback potential was Nine chief executive Hugh Marks, the same man who first signed Stefanovic to the ludicrous $3 million contract he’s been on for the past four years — the worst years in Today’s 38-year history for market share thanks to the domination of Seven and an ascendant ABC.
Stefanovic confirms coaxing Nine bosses with “I’m your lucky charm” — a statement drenched in irony based on his scorecard.
Yet the expert snake-charmer, who clearly has the gift of the gab with men in power, is back, his 2020 restoration reminding those of us who once did wake up with Today of just how disposable women in commercial television are.
Here’s a reminder:
2005: TRACY GRIMSHAW
Two years after the launch of Seven’s rebooted breakfast program Sunrise, with David Koch and Mel Doyle, Today’s 200,000 viewer ratings lead is in jeopardy. In February 2005, Steve Liebmann retires after 22 years and his replacement, a youthful Stefanovic, 30, is paired with incumbent Tracy Grimshaw. The pairing fails. Today loses every day of the ratings year, nationally, to Sunrise. In December 2005, Today crashes to its lowest ever ratings, 116,000 viewers. Nine replaces Grimshaw.
2006: JESSICA ROWE
Ten newsreader Rowe joins Today bringing what Nine hopes will be glamorous froth and bubble to the program. She flounders and proves a weak interviewer prone to giggling fits. A Nine insider tells media the chemistry problem with co-host Stefanovic is not Rowe’s fault: “(Karl) just sits there and doesn’t say anything and she feels obliged to fill the gaps. Sunrise is all about the interaction. There is none on Today because Karl never says much.” Sunrise widens its ratings gap and by year’s end is doubling Today’s audience. Rowe goes on maternity leave never to return after being sacked by new Nine CEO Eddie McGuire in 2007.
2007: KELLIE CONNOLLY
Ex A Current Affair presenter Connolly (and model Sarah Murdoch, who Stefanovic clearly warmed to during a four-month summer stint) is recruited to hold the fort for two months while Nine management deals with the ugly business of terminating Rowe.
Today manages to close Sunrise’s lead to 150,000 viewers. The week after Rowe’s departure is formally announced on May 6, Connolly collapses on air. She is handed a redundancy.
MAY, 2007: LISA WILKINSON
Former magazine editor Lisa Wilkinson, the fifth woman in 18 months to sit beside Stefanovic, restores some calm after replacing Connolly as Sunrise’s audience hits 417,000 viewers to Today’s 270,000. For the next decade, Today, with Wilkinson and Stefanovic at the reins, makes steady gains.
In April 2008, the margin is Today 272,000 to Sunrise on 406,000. By April 2009, it’s Today 294,000 to Sunrise’s 379,000, with
Today recording a rare win that same year. By June 2013, the gap is so o tight — Today on 346,373 to Sunrise’s 356,590 — Seven acts, replacing ing host, 12-year veteran eran Mel Doyle, with frothier Samantha Armytage.
In October 2016, Today boldly claims to have won the year, its first win in 12 years, with a margin of 317,000 to 310,000 over Sunrise. Seven immediately threatens legal action pointing to regional markets Nine didn’t include. Then, with the race almost won, Stefanovic’s marriage ends. As photographs emerge of father-of-three Stefanovic romancing a new woman, Today’s march ends. In October 2017, Sunrise has the lead — 277,000 to 254,000 — when Nine do the unthinkable and cut Wilkinson after protracted contract negotiations stall. She defects to Ten that same day.
OCTOBER, 2017: DEB KNIGHT
Nine newsreader Knight temporarily replaces Wilkinson. Sunrise claims the year by a narrow (five capital city) margin —
289,000 to 277,000.
2018: GEORGIE GARDNER
Nine newsreader Gardner, whose disdain for Stefanovic she’s at pains to conceal, is announced as his new co-host. Today’s ratings drop and hit a decade low in September as Stefanovic makes extravagant wedding plans with his girlfriend and lurches from one scandal to the next off screen. Seven’s lead over Today doubles and by the time
Nine management dumps Stefanovic in December, Seven has claimed the year 265,000 viewers to 236,000.
Deb Knight is announced as Stefanovic’s replacement and Gardner’s new co-anchor for 2019. The women’s partnership will shed another 40,000 viewers in the next year. As of Friday, Sunrise was up 3.5 per cent with 276,000 viewers for the year while Today was down 17.9 per cent with 196,000 (five capital cities). Both women dropped from the program last month.
2020: ALLISON LANGDON
Langdon, the wife of Mike Willesee Jr, has been described describe by Stefanovic Stefan as an old friend f and he will be banking b on this t chemistry with the attractive younger woman w — and, a apparently, ap some som vague promise prom that he’s grown up during the past year y — to carry him back into largely uncharted territory — as a ratings winner in 2020 and beyond. * STEFANOVIC HAS BEEN ON AIR FOR 15 SEASONS AND IN 2016, HAS CLAIMED NINE, HE AND LISA WILKINSON SUCCESSFULLY BEAT SUNRISE, BASED ON RATINGS IN FIVE CAPITAL CITIES.
The new Today hosts Allison Langdon and Karl Stefanovic, and (below) his former co-hosts Tracy Grimshaw, Jessica Rowe, Kellie Connolly, Lisa Wilkinson, and (inset) Deb Knight and Georgie Gardner,