Massive problem that Today ignored
Welcoming viewers to the new-look Today panel back on January 14, host Georgie Gardner described the show's Stefanovic-free revamp as "the very first day of a new era on Nine".
Just 10 months later, Georgie herself has been uncerimonously dumped, with Karl returning to host the show in 2020.
Gardner, co-host Deb Knight and newsreader Tom Steinfort struggled to win over viewers from the very start - and by what turned out to be Gardner's last episode on Friday, tensions within the on-air team were palpable.
A BUMPY FIRST EPISODE
Addressing the shake-up at the top of the new panel's first show on Monday, January 14, Gardner - the only host to survive the 2018 bloodletting - hit a positive tone, describing it as "the very first day of a new era on Nine, with a new-look Today show team".
But many viewers barely gave the team a chance. Within an hour of the show starting, Today was criticised about everything from the all-female co-hosts to the uneven gaps between presenters.
Here's a sample:
- "Lost me, just switched off, trying Channel 10. Not happy."
- "So boring, there's no fun there. again too many woman (sic) men are more fun, crap show."
- "The gap between each person isn't even and the desk is too small."
- "I have been watching Today since Tracey (Grimshaw) was on it, loved Karl and Lisa. Thought I would tune in this morning but omg will not be watching anymore. Loud over bearing (sic)."
- "Yeah … I've already switched off … wish you well..... you're gunna need it."
- "Don't like the new line up. Deb looks like she is taking over the show."
However, at least one optimistic fan saw the silver lining, writing: "With all these people hating the show, I'll watch to win their cash contest, might have a chance."
'IT'S BEEN AN INTERESTING WEEK'
By the end of their first week on TV together, the hosts were owning the negative feedback, closing out the week by reading out some of the not so nice things viewers had said about their performance.
"It's been an interesting week. A lot's been said; good, bad and some of it indifferent," said Deb Knight.
Georgie Gardner added, "We welcome feedback, it keeps us honest, it keeps us laughing", before new sports presenter Tony Jones joked, "It keeps us crying".
Then the line-up launched into some of the harshest comments they'd received.
"This was an interesting one," Knight said. "Ros sent in a message to us via Facebook. She said, 'Saw Today for the first time a couple of days ago … A disjointed conversation with a pair of scruffy, unkempt blondes. Looked like they'd just climbed out of bed and hadn't even brushed their hair.'"
Gardner said a viewer referred to her and Knight as "tuck shop ladies" and another made it clear he was less than impressed with two female hosts fronting the show.
"A big thank you to John who said, 'This just looks like a mothers meeting or a feminist rally'," Gardner said.
Wrapping up the segment, Knight assured viewers that "we're doing our very best to bring you the very best show we can every single day".
Gardner added, "Yes, it is a fresh team, it is a new line-up and change can be hard for some people to get their head around, but for those of you in support, thank you very much, we greatly appreciate it".
Speaking to Kyle and Jackie O a few days later, Knight and Gardner said they'd felt the pressure in their "tough" first week on-air.
Gardner said that on their first day on air she could feel "the heaviness of that scrutiny".
"You just can't hide in TV. Every look, every expression, every side glance is analysed and scrutinised. Often the analysis of it is quite wrong, by the way," she said.
"Also, we were written off in the first half-hour of the show. This commentary was coming through … Usually when you review a show, you wait for it to finish," Knight said.
Today struggled in the ratings all year, viewers never warming to the new panel. In February, the show hit an "embarrassing" new low after recording its lowest ratings in 10 years - 168,000 viewers to Sunrise's 287,000.
A month later, and another unforeseen blow - ABC's News Breakfast drew in more viewers nationally than Today for the first time ever.
And at the start of November, Today suffered its worst result for the year, attracting just 155,000 viewers in five capital cities.
TENSION BEFORE AXE FALLS
Last week, on the eve of Nine's confirmation Karl Stefanovic would return to Today in 2020, an excruciatingly awkward exchange between the show's current team hinted at the true tension behind the scenes.
After some awkward banter between Gardner, Knight and news reader Tom Steinfort in the studio and Jones in the field, Knight tried to lighten the mood by asking if Jones had taken his dog Archie with him for the day.
"Deb, we're at a racetrack," Jones spat. "Probably not a great idea to bring the dog, I wouldn't have thought."
"I thought it might've been good to have Archie there to cheer you up," Knight continued.
Steinfort chimed in with, "Yeah, it just …" before Jones cut him off and insisted he was "in a great mood … and just love being here".
Knight wrapped up the entire cringe-worthy cross.
"OK, well sorry for asking. Never mind. Good on you, TJ."