Despite its innate tension, just which bubbly lady the Honey Badger will choose to hand his final rose to on The Bachelor isn’t the biggest mystery in Australian TV just now.
It’s what will happen next to Karl Stefanovic, and we’re not talking wedding destinations (all the money for that is on Mexico, in December.)
And the people who may have the answers – Nine’s bosses – aren’t talking.
The new speculation, the latest in a year of PR blips and professional rumblings for Karl, came after the network’s Today show managed just 199,000 metro viewers on Tuesday.
According to OzTAM’s metro ratings, Today was 34th on the ratings ladder for Tuesday. It drew 320,000 viewers nationally against Seven rival Sunrise’s 445,000.
Across the country, Sunrise’s audience was up 1 per cent in the first two weeks of September compared to the first two in August, while Today’s fell 6 per cent.
The bald figures were the worst in 10 years, according to News Corp, which ran opinion columns calling for the beleaguered Karl’s head, claiming his private life is responsible for turning off viewers.
But how much of it is just spin? What’s the go with Karl?
If Nine’s highest paid star himself is worried about his future and has been discussing it with fiancee Jasmine Yarbrough, there was no hint of domestic tension in a breezy fashion photo she posted to Instagram on Thursday.
While Karl hasn’t touched his own account since September 8 – when he shared a snap of his mother Jenny with a tray of sweet treats – Yarbrough, who has been in New York, has been active and upbeat.
So, it seems it’s best foot forward for the couple, which is a strong PR strategy just now, if Stefanovic’s time at the Today desk is indeed drawing to a close.
Trouble is, it’s hard to tell if that’s true or not. A Nine source told The New Daily that the question of what will happen to Today and Karl is a “curly” one and that morale is “a bit diabolical”.
Last month, a second source said the network was “approaching the end of the year” and “all these things get looked at”.
On Thursday, The New Daily put some specific questions to Nine.
They included whether the Today ratings have created alarm, if the show is under review in its current form, and whether Karl’s future at the breakfast flagship is in doubt.
We also asked if market research has been done into why viewers are turning off and if it’s true that mature women are the major demographic to have changed their Today viewing habits.
Finally, we asked if Stefanovic is OK.
At a Melbourne brunch a couple of months ago, he told The New Daily intense public scrutiny of his private life and fallout from missteps such as ‘Ubergate’ (“then add three and a half hours of breakfast TV every day on top of that”) had “broken” him this year.
Nine wasn’t biting. Fed up, its usually-approachable publicists are now dealing with Today queries through gritted teeth.
“Our focus is always on producing great content for our viewers, and backing the people of Australia” was the reply from a network spokesperson.
“That’s why we go into battle for our farmers, for example, to raise $10 million for drought relief. That’s what matters to Karl and Georgie, and the whole team, rather than periodic fluctuations in ratings.”
When asked for an actual reply as to whether Nine has concerns over the current incarnation of the show, the spokesperson would not comment further.
“I still think the suddenly family-friendly Ben Fordham will be the new host come January,” a TV insider told The New Daily.
“I just can’t see Karl lasting through the tabloid coverage of his wedding, double denim and that Pharrell hat.”
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Nine pointed The New Daily to statistics showing that in 2018 the combined average daily audiences for Today (198,000) in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are higher than Sunrise (195,000).
“Yes, our audience is down year on year, but Sunrise has also experienced significant year-on-year audience declines,” a spokesperson said.
A TV sales executive said it was harsh to single out Today over ratings: “You could point your finger at every show on TV, and except for [Seven’s] The Front Bar, they would all be down on last year.”