Nearly three hours after news broke on Wednesday that Nine had axed its former golden boy Karl Stefanovic from his longtime job as Today host, his former colleague Lisa Wilkinson gave him a shoutout.
Taking to Twitter and Instagram, the Sunday Project host – who left behind Karl and Nine last October when she jumped ship to Ten – recalled her years on Today: “When it was good, it was great.”
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Earlier, right after Nine’s announcement about Stefanovic electrified the media world and Today fans, the ABC’s News Breakfast host Michael Rowland also got around the Gold Logie winner: “Always admired your work, particularly in the field.”
Farewell from breakfast TV, @karlstefanovic. Always admired your work, particularly in the field. Enjoy the extra sleep!
— Michael Rowland (@mjrowland68) December 19, 2018
The recognition of Stefanovic’s talents from experienced peers highlights a harsh truth for Nine: he could do it all, from live crosses during terror attacks to giggling at puppies. Replacing Karl after 14 years might be easier said than done.
His reporting chops – honed since he began working for WIN in Rockhampton and Cairns as a cadet reporter in 1994 – combined with an easy charm that kept Today viewers hooked from 2005 (until the rot set in last year) made him Nine’s most valuable commodity.
The network expects to announce a rebooted lineup and format in the next couple of weeks, news director Darren Wick said on Wednesday.
Nine has had plans in the works for months. It is understood by The New Daily Karl learned of his fate before he left Australia for his Mexican wedding, although the network will not confirm that timing.
Still, given there aren’t many candidates on the market with Stefanovic’s experience and profile, who is on the whiteboard to replace him?
The intriguing thing will be whether the network goes with a Karl Lite candidate – a la impish radio man Ben Fordham, who was a hit with viewers when he filled in for Stefanovic in May – or a more anodyne, Nothing To See Here choice like current fill-in host Brenton Ragless.
“My money is on Ben Fordham,” said a TV insider who has worked at several commercial networks.
“Whether he would want the poisoned chalice is another story.”
In September, a Nine source told The New Daily Fordham, 42, was “definitely on the radar” for the job, which even then was being discussed as a certain upcoming vacancy.
Fordham is not just a solid family man – which viewers value if their desertion of Stefanovic after his marriage split is a reliable litmus test – but he’s already in the family as former Today sports reporter and now host of Nine’s Australian Ninja Warrior.
One con? He’s married to Seven presenter Jodie Speers and a cross-network union at such a high-profile level might not be on brand for the network.
And as the TV insider says, he might not be keen. The 2GB host told TV Week earlier this year he was “thankful” his breakfast TV days were over as he didn’t have to miss his children’s big moments: “I quickly realised it wouldn’t be for me.”
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Adelaide newsreader Ragless, 42, has been pleasant in his weeks in the chair beside Georgie Gardner’s fill-in Deborah Knight, his biggest controversy the awkward Christmas turkey apology to Coles this week.
Better for Nine, his unthreatening Ned Flanders vibe would seem to rule a line through the threat of any Karl tipsy Logies exploits or an imploding private life.
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 churchgoer, he met his wife Hayley when he dropped off film to be developed at the photo lab where she worked.
But he only has 1336 Instagram followers, which may not equal the traction Nine wants.
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Thanks for your company @thetodayshow this week. Every day until Christmas, our Advent calendar is making a difference in the lives of individuals & communities doing it tough. Sharing their compelling stories has been a humbling reminder of what this season is all about. See you Monday!
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Today Extra host David Campbell was mentioned as in the mix by the Nine source, but his lack of hard news experience will rule him out, according to a second industry insider, who said it’s more likely Nine would try to lure Waleed Aly from The Project.
Given Mr Wick’s suggestion of a fresh lineup, Stefanovic, 44, may not be the only Today regular with their head on the block.
Since starting early this year as Wilkinson’s replacement, Gardner, 48, “hasn’t covered herself in glory either”, the Nine source told The New Daily in September.
With that in mind, Ten’s Sarah Harris, 37, has been thrown into the mix as a potential candidate, although her fun, Earth mother style is out of synch with Nine’s preference for a glossier, more glacial presentation.
Sylvia Jeffreys, 32, wife of Peter Stefanovic (who was let go from Nine the day before his brother lost the Today job) may be a tricky case for the network.
She’s popular and professional, but her links with the Stefanovic boys may be too much for Nine to swallow long term.
The TV insider says when the dust settles, the last man standing may be the show’s veteran entertainment man, Richard Wilkins, 64.
“He’s best friends with Darren Wick and [Today’s executive producer] Steven Burling,” said the insider.
“Dickie and Wickie were both just at Burlo’s wedding. He’ll survive.”