Amid the firestorm of rumours surrounding his future on the Today show, Karl Stefanovic has gone on a public PR offensive, proclaiming his love for colleagues and family and sharing happy snaps.
Karl’s move comes after it was reported by News Ltd that senior Nine sources claim Stefanovic, 44, has become so “toxic” he will be told this week he won’t be returning to the Nine breakfast show in 2019.
Others think differently. It’s just hard to say if Karl is one of them.
“He’ll survive it, no question. He’s still talent,” Sydney media analyst Steve Allen from Fusion Strategy told The New Daily.
Thing is, he’s going to have to reinvent himself and eat some humble pie and try and cobble together some forgiveness.”
The axing claim was cautiously denied by Nine CEO Hugh Marks, who said “we stick by our people” but left himself wiggle room by singling out Stefanovic while firing a warning shot across Today’s bows.
Describing 2018 as a “tough and challenging year for Karl and Today”, he told The Australian: “No doubt the constant publicity surrounding issues with his personal life have had an impact on Karl”.
Mr Marks said he had “every confidence” that “the challenge” issued to Today show producers, presenters and “especially” Karl to “regain the trust and loyalty of our audience” would be met.
The sacking claim came days after an industry source told The New Daily that “the suddenly family-friendly Ben Fordham will be the new host come January”.
But, far from appearing downcast or defensive, Stefanovic went touchy-feely.
After not posting to his social media accounts since September 8, Australian TV’s highest-paid star shared a photo of himself with his Today castmates on September 21: “I love my on-air family”.
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On Sunday, he put up a photo of fiancee Jasmine Yarbrough being cuddled by a younger man at a charity event and made a joke about having his “grass” cut.
Later that day, Stefanovic posted to Instagram a photo of himself enjoying a coldie and some couch time with brother Peter, shoe designer Yarbrough and Winx’s trainer Chris Waller.
Again, Stefanovic’s message was all about love and how he’s “incredibly grateful” for his friends and family.
“It’s all that matters, really.”
It was a cryptic, interesting choice of words from a man who uses them for a living – was Stefanovic saying his job and possible lack of one doesn’t matter?
The reaction from Stefanovic’s 242,000 followers was almost all positive.
“Living the dream, champ,” said one user. “Keep doing you mate,” said a second. “Who cares about your personal life?” asked a third.
The New Daily contacted Nine to ask if the network’s position remained the same as that expressed by Mr Marks over the weekend. We also asked for confirmation that Nine bosses totally back Stefanovic, as suggested by the CEO’s comments.
The network declined to make any further comment.
In June, at a Melbourne brunch, Stefanovic told The New Daily he was sick of rumours about himself and that nobody “ever” contacts him to fact check them.
Given that and the latest buzz, we asked Nine if its star would be up for a chat about what’s happening.
The offer was not taken up.
Today‘s ratings dive began in September 2016 after Stevanovic was first snapped with Yarbrough, 34. Last week, the show’s ratings slumped to their lowest point in over a decade.
“I don’t think Nine is committed to getting rid of him, but I don’t think they can afford to just ‘warehouse’ him like they could 10 years ago,” Mr Allen said.
“The essential problem is while they keep saying getting rid of him isn’t the solution, the trajectory of ratings keeps getting worse and worse.”
It is believed Stefanovic is contracted at Nine, at a reported $3 million a year, until about September 2019.
If he gets the flick from Today, would Nine think about moving him to 60 Minutes or perhaps an overseas posting?
“Correct,” Mr Allen said.