Karl Stefanovic’s comeback to a news role after his long exile in Nine’s warehouse has begun with a 60 Minutes Meghan Markle exposé hailed as a ‘genius’ strategy.
“In terms of a PR move, it doesn’t get much better in Australian media,” a TV source told The New Daily.
“Karl himself wasn’t great, but the fake drama was textbook.”
Stefanovic has proved over the years he is one of the most adept news journalists in the country.
He anchored live crosses from Paris after the 2015 terrorist attacks and has made a career of being able to talk to prime ministers, celebrities and young families alike.
Yet here he was on Sunday reporting on the UK tabloid bashing of the Duchess of Sussex in a story headlined as “the insane Markle debacle” and “How Meghan Markle lost her sparkle.”
Counter-intuitive perfect TV for Stefanovic’s grand return.
Nine built it up with Karl as the villain, before he was revealed as just a serial giggler reading in a soft voice from a pantomime script and asking anodyne questions.
60 Minutes also revived the old narrative of Princess Diana as a saint.
#Megxit! How Meghan Markle lost her sparkle. From adored to insufferable in less than a year. What went wrong for Meghan, and how it affects hubby Harry. SUNDAY on #60Mins: Inside a Royal crisis. Can the ghost of Princess Diana save a fairytale? pic.twitter.com/dHtiPdwa7j
— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) September 4, 2019
“People love Karl and love royal stories. It’s ratings gold,” a TV insider who has worked at the two of the commercial networks told The New Daily.
“How to relaunch Karl has been one thing Nine has thought long and hard about and pairing him with Meghan Markle was genius,” a Nine source said.
“She’s probably the most talked-about person in the world.
“Do you really think anyone would have cared if Karl did an on-the-ground in the Strait of Hormuz or covered off Brexit?
“This got a lot of publicity before it aired. This got eyes on screens. The only problem for Nine was it clashed with their Ashes coverage.
“Not a bad problem to have this late in the ratings year.”
Before the show aired, critics including actor Mia Farrow and TV presenter Jameela Jamil slammed 60 Minutes for its apparent attack dog approach, as shown on promotional previews.
They particularly disapproved of Nine using British commentator Katie Hopkins, who once compared African migrants crossing the Mediterranean to ‘cockroaches’.
On 60 Minutes she described Meghan, 38, a “no one” as Stefanovic – who kept calling the duchess ‘Megs’ — smirked.
Could @karlstefanovic s career/midlife crisis take a bigger dive, trying to improve the publics opinion by giving licence to a known racist? FM @60Mins you are really just a shite tabloid tv show now. #getinthebin
— 💧The Angry Goddess (@Bishop64) September 5, 2019
After being shunted from Today’s world of breakfast TV last December, Karl was sent to the naughty corner to let viewers miss him (which they have) and Nine ease him back into public consciousness.
So we saw him make a perfectly pitched cameo at the Logies, followed by a softly-softly return with the mawkish This Time Next Year, where Stefanovic’s interview skills are reduced to poking babies and saying, “What’s this little fella’s name?”
It was time to get him back on the front line, and it had to be big but not hard-hitting.
Some commentators saw it as ironic that Stefanovic, whose downfall as a TV darling was caused by his private life, would be giving oxygen to those criticising a senior royal over her own “royal crisis” (which all turned out to be old news.)
At what should be the happiest time of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s lives, things have gone famously awry for the world’s most popular newlyweds. The Duke and Duchess’ fairytale has fractured and one person is copping all the blame. Now on #60Mins, where did it all go wrong? pic.twitter.com/53zVIIICF0
— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) September 8, 2019
“Wait until the ratings come in,” the Nine spokesperson said.
“Karl covering Meghan would have aligned him with women viewers who are interested in what she says, what she wears, what she does.
“It was women who turned on him over the situation with [ex-wife] Cassandra [Thorburn] and 60 Minutes would have had him on their radar again.
“Viewers have short memories and if he’s down with Meghan, they’re down with him.”