Real scandal behind Karl’s Today comeback

 

COMMENT

"What do you think about Karl Stefanovic going back to Today?" a friend asked yesterday. I considered the question.

I certainly wasn't doing cartwheels - it's a man returning to a breakfast TV program, not the Second Coming of Christ - but what struck me was that I was genuinely unable recall why we're all supposed to hate him.

His marriage of 20 years to ex-wife and current Studio 10 guest panellist Cassandra Thorburn ended in 2016 and he married someone else, former model and shoe designer Jasmine Yarbrough.

And in 2018 he had a bit of a b**ch about his colleagues with his brother and former Nine stablemate, Peter Stefanovic, in the back of a rideshare, a "scandal" - if you can call it that - that became known as "Ubergate".

I trailed through the contemporaneous news reports from the time of Stefanovic's sacking to see if I'd missed anything but no.

That was it.

That was all of it.

What was Nine thinking?

Karl’s marriage to Jasmine seemed to mark a turning point in his career, bafflingly. Picture: Suppled
Karl’s marriage to Jasmine seemed to mark a turning point in his career, bafflingly. Picture: Suppled

If you're reading this and can honestly say you've never ended a relationship or snarked privately to a friend about Karen from marketing, then I applaud you but you are too pure for this world.

We all gossip about work. It's a way to vent, to get things off your chest and workshop ways to make your professional life more bearable.

And one in three marriages in Australia end in divorce, so a good chunk of the Today audience have been in Karl's shoes. A network rebuking one of its stars for doing something that their viewers do all the time demonstrates a truly mindless lack of insight.

It's 2019, not 1959. And if you clutch at your pearl strings every time someone in the public eye looks like they could be a cad or a bounder or a touch indiscreet then you're in danger of throttling yourself.

Karl’s split from first wife Cassandra Thorburn made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Karl’s split from first wife Cassandra Thorburn made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

It's clear that the network's holier-than-thou decision didn't pay off. The ratings weren't fabulous when Karl left, admittedly, but after his exit they went into freefall.

The debut line-up of Deborah Knight and Georgie Gardner at the beginning of this year pulled in just 197,000 metro viewers next to rival Sunrise's 266,000. Earlier this month that figure dropped to a miserable 163,000, its lowest ratings of all time.

Georgie Gardner’s time in the host’s seat was short-lived. Picture: Today/Channel 9
Georgie Gardner’s time in the host’s seat was short-lived. Picture: Today/Channel 9

You may not find Karl's delivery or persona appealing - the jovial, slightly tactless "good Aussie bloke" schtick works for some people, not for others - but the fact is he's one of the country's most experienced and celebrated broadcasters and to boot him off because his private life attracts headlines was madness.

He's won praise and accolades for his coverage of some of Australia's most appalling disasters including the Childers hostel fire in 2000 and the Canberra bushfires in 2003. In 2011 he won two Logies - a gold and a silver - for most popular personality and most popular presenter.

And how easily those who professed to be so scandalised by his private life in 2018 forgot about the time, just four years earlier, when Karl was praised as A Bona Fide Feminist Hero.

Irked by the fact that his co-host at the time Lisa Wilkinson would attract floods of letters every time she wore an outfit that viewers considered lacking, Stefanovic conducted a sly experiment into sexism by wearing the same blue suit for a year to see if anyone would hammer him in a similar way.

"No one has noticed," he said in an interview at the time. "No one gives a sh*t."

Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic had a very successful onscreen partnership. Picture: Instagram
Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic had a very successful onscreen partnership. Picture: Instagram

It was a genius way to highlight the very real double-standards that he and his female co-hosts faced when it came to their physical appearance and the story was picked up all over the world, to universal acclaim.

Yet the guy ends his marriage, then meets someone else and gets remarried and the network reacts like he's Harvey Weinstein.

Of course Karl returning to the helm of Today alongside new co-host Allison Langdon doesn't guarantee that the show can reverse its failing fortunes.

There have been so many changes, so many kneejerk upheavals that it's difficult to imagine the Nine corridors aren't infected with a weary malaise as everyone from the camera guys to the makeup artists brace for yet another new wheezing attempt to resuscitate the golden years. When everyone is on edge like that, the bad juju can leak onto the screen.

Allison Langdon will host the show alongside Karl from January. Picture: Instagram
Allison Langdon will host the show alongside Karl from January. Picture: Instagram

It may well be too late for Today but it's not too late for the network to learn from its mistakes and think twice before making such a panicked, priggish decision again.

Do you think Nine made a mistake pulling Karl from Today? Let us know in the comments below.

Alex Carlton is a freelance writer @Alex_Carlton



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