Today addresses show’s awkward absence
There's a glaring absence behind the Today show desk this morning and things took an awkward turn when the remaining presenters addressed the issue.
Deb Knight said Georgie Gardner, who left the program, had given it a "red hot go".
On the weekend it was announced that former host Karl Stefanovic would be returning to the failing program a year after he was dumped in favour of the duo of Gardner and Knight.
Since then ratings have tumbled to embarrassing levels for Nine, the show a rare black spot in the network's schedule.
But while Knight and fellow presenter Tom Steinfort remain at Today, for the moment at least, ahead of Stefanovic taking on hosting duties again next year, Gardner has already gone.
This morning the remaining presenters had to address the lack of Gardner.
"We wanted to acknowledge our colleague and friend Georgie Gardner," Knight told viewers.
"You might have read over the weekend that Georgie has left the Today show. After a really challenging year we want to wish Georgie all the very best."
Steinfort then chimed in.
"She has been a committed and passionate member of the team here. I think particularly when she's been sharing the stories of every day Australians who are doing it tough; these are issues that she wanted to focus on.
"She has always been a woman of strength here, a woman of class, and also who could forget very wicked sense of humour that would just pop up from time to time as well."
Knight than awkwardly summed up her co-presenter's contribution to the program: "She gave it a red hot go."
"For now though, Georgie is enjoying the time with her family, friends, taking Wilbur the dog (for a walk) and we look forward to seeing you on our screens again very soon."
"Enjoy the sleep ins," Steinfort then added.
Indeed Gardner has been seen taking Wilbur for a walk, with husband Tim Barker on the weekend in Mosman on Sydney's north shore.
On Saturday, she told the Sydney Morning Herald that she was consulted two weeks ago about Today's direction next year and said, "naturally I'm disappointed with the outcome."
She also took a swipe at being in the spotlight as host of Today: "I have no regrets, even though the scrutiny and public discourse has been daunting and disproportionate. It's also at times been cruel."
It's been reported that she will return to reporting duties on Nine News while Steinfort will be heading to 60 Minutes.
There have long thought to be tensions between Stefanovic and Gardner, despite the fact the pair presented Today for a year following Lisa Wilkinson's sensational defection to Channel 10 and The Project.
The Sunday Telegraph talked to inside sources on the show that said Stefanovic found Gardner "humourless". For her part, she wasn't impressed by the constant headlines he was generating.
"She signed on to the show after having been assured she would only have to do one year with Karl," the source reportedly told the newspaper.
Ratings for Today had been waning even when Stefanovic was behind the desk but headed even further south when he departed.
Just 155,000 people tuned in on Friday, November 1 for one of Nine's tent pole shows.
Those who did stick with Today last week witnessed a bizarre exchange on Gardner's final show.
During a live cross from Sandown racetrack, sports presenter Tony Jones posed a question to his colleagues about what kind of Australian food might be included on a menu for the French Fed Cup tennis team.
The next minute of failed banter - complete with abrupt replies from Jones and visibly taken aback reactions from the trio in Sydney - is hard to watch, to say the least.
Gardner suggested "a kangaroo burger, maybe", which elicited a cranky shot from Jones.
"Oh, you'd just go and slaughter a kangaroo, would you, Georgie?" he said.
"Kangaroo meat is readily available across Australia. That's not uncommon." she quickly shot back.
Knight tried to lighten the mood by asking if Jones had taken his cavoodle Archie with him.
"Deb, we're at a racetrack," Jones spat. "Probably not a great idea to bring the dog, I wouldn't have thought."
Knight wrapped up the entire cringe-worthy cross by apologising.
"OK, well sorry for asking. Never mind. Good on you, TJ."
Then on Friday night's edition of The Project, comedian Joel Creasy also took a dig at Gardner's last morning behind the desk when he drew attention to the fact that she was seemingly unfamiliar with popular US musician Lizzo.
"To anyone who doesn't think the Today show is down with the kids, let me assure you are wrong," Creasey began, before airing a clip of the panel returning from an ad break to Lizzo's hit Good As Hell.
"Thank you, Lizzie, Lizzo, isn't it?" Gardner fumbled as her co-hosts chuckled sympathetically beside her.
"We're doing well, keeping up with the peeps," Gardner joked.
Mocking the hosts as the footage cut out, Creasey said, "Yeah, G and D, down with the peeps," before shaking his head and muttering "terrible" while Waleed Aly, Wilkinson and Monty Dimond laughed.
Attempting to compose herself, Wilkinson put her head down to conceal her laughter as the The Project - which, in contrast to Today, is praised for its genuine chemistry between presenters, went to an ad break.
Stefanovic will return to Today in February 2020 presenting alongside Weekend Today host and 60 Minutes reporter Allison Langdon.