Karl’s comeback tour is kicking off
IT'S crunch time for Karl Stefanovic.
The second season of This Time Next Year starts on August 12 and the response from viewers will likely determine the former Today co-host's television future.
It is nearly eight months since Channel 9 made the shock decision to dump Stefanovic from its once-dominant breakfast show.
Something had to give. Today was languishing in the ratings and Stefanovic had been the centre of a swirl of scandals for more than a year.
There had been the messy divorce from his wife of 21 years, Cass Thorburn, the swift new romance with young shoe designer Jasmine Yarbrough and the Uber tape in which he bagged Today co-host Georgie Gardner.
That put Stefanovic in the crosshairs of the trash magazines and the paparazzi who gleefully feasted on the former Gold Logie winner's personal travails.
A week wouldn't go past without a juicy new revelation. Pictures of Stefanovic and Yarbrough holidaying in Bora Bora aboard James Packer's luxury yacht Arctic P. did the rounds.
Thorburn made headlines when she told a magazine that her former husband "really was dead to me".
Stefanovic was on the nose with Aussie viewers, particularly women who were switching off the man they once thought of as a loveable larrikin.
The final insult was Stefanovic and Yarbrough's splashy wedding in Mexico early last December. The mass coverage of the no-expense-spared nuptials threw petrol on the fire and Nine decided to pour a bucket of cold water on the whole catastrophe.
Within days, Nine announced that Stefanovic wouldn't be returning to Today in the new year. A second season of This Time Next Year was the only program the star would be fronting.
That is hardly enough on-air screen time to justify a $2 million a year salary. There were immediate reports that Nine would likely drop Stefanovic altogether once his contract expires at the end of this year.
The big question right now is whether Stefanovic can turn that around. Has enough time passed for Aussie viewers to warm to him again?
The 44-year-old has certainly helped his cause by keeping a low profile recently. The media circus has largely packed up its tent and moved on.
A healthy dose of humility is another positive sign. Stefanovic recently acknowledged that he wasn't at the top of his game during the latter months of Today because of all the distractions.
He will also benefit from the heartwarming stories that will feature on This Time Next Year. The emotional on-air promotion already puts a lump in the throat.
One of Stefanovic's strengths is his interview skills and season two highlights those as he meets Eden, who is plagued by a rare form of Tourette syndrome and pledges to overcome it in the space of 12 months so she can go to school.
A mother-daughter duo vow to lose 100kg between them. A couple wants to put years of heartache behind them to have a baby. A 101-year-old woman wants to learn to fly. A wheelchair bound mother dreams of running in the backyard with her five-year-old son.
It's poignant stuff which will go a long way to helping restore Stefanovic's popularity if he can go from being seen as "Cocky Karl" to "Caring Karl".
Will that be enough for Nine to re-sign him at year's end? There is no doubting there are people in high places at the network who value his on-air skills. It is the baggage that has come with that talent that has been the problem.
The chance to take over from Nine's retiring US bureau chief Robert Penfold never happened. Tim Arvier, who has worked for Nine in Queensland and the Northern Territory got the prized gig.
Maybe a future in talkback radio rather than television is a possibility. Stefanovic recently landed a job as a "regular contributor" on Steve Price's show at 2GB.
The first season of This Time Next Year was popular with viewers - the premiere episode averaged 1.282 million viewers across the five metro markets.
Stefanovic will hope season two will be the charm that helps restores his popularity.
The stakes couldn't be higher for the star: a potential new contract, a massive amount of money, a restored reputation. His fate is in viewers' hands.
Colin Vickery is a freelance writer and Herald Sun columnist. @Colvick