Channel Nine has taken the extraordinary step of replacing dumped Today show host Karl Stefanovic with a woman, Deborah Knight, making it an all-female pairing for the breakfast show.
The team of two women – Knight and existing host Georgie Gardner – is a first for Australian breakfast television and is being seen as a daring move by Channel 9 executives, undoubtedly designed to try and bolster poor ratings.
The network’s flagship breakfast program suffered flagging ratings in 2018, with Stefanovic’s personal life making headlines for much of the year, and his “brand” suffering from his separation from wife Cassandra Thorburn to marry Jasmine Yarbrough, 34.
As soon as Stefanovic, 44, was moved on from Today, several candidates had been mooted as a possible replacement, including 2GB radio host Ben Fordham, Adelaide presenter and some-time Today fill-in Brenton Ragless, Ten’s Sarah Harris, Project host Waleed Aly and Knight. Although most pundits thought a female duo an unlikely prospect.
Nine’s breakfast TV boss Steven Burling, who took over last month, said the decision to put Gardner and Knight together on the desk was not by design or a tokenistic gesture, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported.
“The rationale for us for two female hosts is simply having the two most capable people at the desk as part of our core team,” he said.
“We didn’t think it was a statement, we didn’t think it was time to have a female duo hosting Today; it was about having our dream team who we wanted sitting there.”
Burling said the group were “serious journalists but also fun personalities, Australia will love waking up with them in 2019”.
Knight, 46, is a mother of three who has served as a fill-in and Weekend Today host since joining the network in 2011.
— Leigh Sales (@leighsales) January 5, 2019
Super excited to be co-hosting Today Show from Jan 14th with @deborah_knight and to have @tomsteinfort on the desk to keep us honest! Good mix of news, sport, entertainment & high jinks courtesy of @StevenBurling #iwakeupwithtoday
— Georgie Gardner (@GeorgieG) January 5, 2019
Great decision. Congrats Deb
— Monica Attard (@AttardMon) January 5, 2019
In a statement about the decision, Nine’s director of news and current affairs, Darren Wick, said: “Deb Knight is hands-down one of the best interviewers in the country. An incredibly hard worker, she cuts to the chase with every conversation.
“Tom Steinfort is among the best of a new breed of reporters. His career has taken him from the Melbourne newsroom to A Current Affair, European correspondent for Nine News and onto 60 Minutes.”
The hosts will be joined by Melbourne sports presenter Tony Jones, Nine finance editor Ross Greenwood and former ABC journalist and Triple J newsreader Brooke Boney as entertainment reporter alongside Richard Wilkins.
The new team debuts on air on January 14 to coincide with the start of Nine’s coverage of the Australian Open.