Fronted by a reporter on the red carpet at the Logies on Sunday, Karl Stefanovic noticeably twinkled.
“I’m back,” he said. “It’s great to see a camera again.”
Even early on Karl was at his big occasion best, telling the Nine reporter, “I hope I’m not still in the clink after tonight.”
No chance. The father-of-three’s public exile may well be over. Sure, Tom Gleeson won Gold and created a furore with his awful acceptance speech, but he wasn’t the most intriguing man in the room.
Warehoused by Nine while still being paid his reported $3 million salary, Stefanovic hasn’t been seen on our screens since his exit, stage left.
Depending on who you believe, he’s been spending his time undergoing multiple attempts at reversing his vasectomy or just kicking back with shoe designer wife Jasmine Yarbrough.
But suddenly, there was Stefanovic front and centre at Nine’s big kids’ table at the Logies.
His place alongside former network CEO David Gyngell and wife Leila McKinnon, network news director Darren Wick and stars Hamish Blake, Andy Lee and Sonia Kruger, spoke volumes.
In a room wall to wall with stars, Stefanovic was the one everyone wanted to hang with.
He was supremely comfortable during a live cross with Richard Wilkins, despite noting he hadn’t been on TV for a long time and might be rusty.
Never. While carefully restricting himself to a bit part and reining himself in, Stefanovic still shone with larrikin authenticity and showed Nine what they’re missing.
The problem is that while the network’s hands were tied with Stefanovic once he became on the nose for judgemental viewers who confused his professional skills with his personal foibles, they don’t have anyone who comes close to his charisma.
Well, Hamish Blake and Tracy Grimshaw aside.
Today newsreader Tom Steinfort is pleasantly dull. Wilkins thinks everything and everyone is “great”. McKinnon enunciates as if her life depends on it. David Campbell is gushy in the manner of a theatrical old-school pantomime host who desperately needs to soak up time after a backstage disaster. Delta is Delta.
Stefanovic, meanwhile, can talk to anyone without being embarrassingly sycophantic. He’s never fake. He can talk politics, animals, kids. He can cheerfully send himself up or seriously grill a prime minister.
He personifies what Gleeson, at the end of that speech, urged everyone to do: “We should all lighten the f–k up.”
I’m not telling Nine anything new. There’s a reason they pay Stefanovic more than anyone else at the network.
And lo and behold, there he was back again at the Nine recovery brunch after the Logies, yucking it up with Hamish and Andy Lee and cracking himself up doing rude-looking things with a giant Gold Logie statue.
Beaming, Stefanovic posed with Nine CEO Hugh Marks and took the microphone to address the in-crowd as Sigrid Thornton and the cast of Travel Guides enjoyed some hangover food.
By Monday night, Karl was part of Nine’s Logies highlights reel after A Current Affair, smirking and doing pistol hands with the aplomb of the Blue Wiggle.
WIthout fanfare, Nine is testing the waters. Stefanovic is clearly being eased back into our consciousness, then back into on-air duties in August with his reality show This Time Next Year.
It will be interesting to see whether viewers are ready to forgive him for being a real person. Haven’t you missed him just a tiny bit?