Charm of­fen­sive brings Karl back to break­fast

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


Nine news­reader Knight tem­po­rar­ily re­places Wilkin­son. Sun­rise claims the year by a nar­row (five cap­i­tal city) mar­gin —

289,000 to 277,000.


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.


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,

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