Nine has a shortlist of candidates they’re looking at to replace Karl Stefanovic on Today, sources at the network have told The New Daily – and there’s one major dark horse.
“We know and he knows he has to disappear for a while,” one Nine insider said of the Gold Logie winner.
“It’s a cliche, but his position is becoming untenable. Ratings aren’t going to reverse themselves and Karl is the main problem.
“He’s on the nose, but Georgie [Gardner] hasn’t covered herself in glory either. The chemistry between them is lacking, shall we say, and she looks like she doesn’t want to be there.”
The unofficial confirmation of a succession plan comes after two years of negative publicity for Stefanovic, including having dirty laundry aired by his ex-wife Cassandra Thorburn and the ‘Ubergate’ controversy when he was caught dissing co-host Gardner.
Last week, ratings for Today were called the worst in 10 years.
A TV source told The New Daily last week that Stefanovic, who has been in the Today co-host chair since 2005, will be gone from his breakfast TV job within the next eight weeks.
It is believed Nine will wave him off from the set before his wedding later this year, and that he will take an extended break of up to a year, making occasional cameos on 60 Minutes or doing assignments from the US or UK.
“That would be a way of dealing with it. They can move him quite quickly out of the limelight, move him offshore,” media analyst Steve Allen of Fusion Strategy told The New Daily.
“Somehow in the way he and Nine have handled the situation of his personal life, he’s not going to be forgiven in a hurry. He’ll survive it, no question, he’s still talent but he’s going to have to reinvent himself.”
In the face of it all, Stefanovic was supremely relaxed on Today on Tuesday:
Australia's on the hunt for the next BIG thing! We can choose from a shortlist of finalists for our newest oversized tourist attraction. Which one would you like to see? Use your reactions to VOTE! #9Today pic.twitter.com/h1jfcWOOlk
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) September 24, 2018
Nine wouldn’t comment on its job recruitment, pointing instead to carefully-worded comments made by CEO Hugh Marks to The Australian.
While Mr Marks said “We stick by our people at Nine”, he failed to say Stefanovic had the network’s full support. He gave himself plenty of wriggle room to backtrack, saying that the “challenge” is on Today “and especially on Karl” to regain audience trust.
So who’s on the Today whiteboard?
Impish regular fill-in Ben Fordham, a 2GB radio broadcaster and host of Nine’s Australian Ninja Warrior, is “definitely on the radar”, said the Nine source.
The source agreed with reports Nine’s former weather presenter and now Adelaide newsreader Brenton Ragless is also under consideration.
The former radio host’s stint filling in on Today last Christmas was successful, and he has the “everyman” style that is Stefanovic’s calling card.
A one-time bus driver, Ragless is a volunteer firefighter who once almost became host of the dolphin show at Sea World on the Gold Coast. An avid church goer, he met his wife Hayley when he dropped off film to be developed at the photo lab where she worked.
— Nine News Adelaide (@9NewsAdel) September 21, 2018
Current Today Extra host David Campbell is also believed to be in the mix, and Clint Stanaway, sports presenter on Melbourne’s Nine News, is a long shot.
A Nine source did not deny Weekend Today presenter Peter Stefanovic’s name has come up, with the network balancing the upside (he’s married to Today’s popular Sylvia Jeffreys) with the downside (he’s Karl’s brother.)
But, intriguingly, an industry source said that a dark horse who would do “a cracker” job is political editor Chris Uhlmann, who drew strong reviews and good-natured ribbing from former ABC colleagues when he was a Today fill-in host last Christmas.
— Michael Rowland (@mjrowland68) December 18, 2017
Uhlmann is a strong, experienced interviewer with a sense of humour who would give the show both gravitas and a light touch.
“I still reckon it’s Ben Fordham, but that swivel chair is a poisoned chalice at the moment,” the source said.
“Would he want it? Would anyone?”