Nine goes with all-female hosts for TODAY show

Deb Knight & Georgie Gardner

PHOTO: The Daily Telegraph

As reported by TV Blackbox in November, Nine are trying something new with their breakfast show

After fever-pitched speculation, NINE has announced its new line-up for the beleaguered TODAY with Deb Knight, Tom Steinfort and Tony Jones joining the team.

There had been ongoing confusion over who had what role, but a press release from NINE confirms Deb Knight will sit alongside Georgie. Tom Steinfort will read news and Tony Jones will read sport.

Newly installed executive producer Steve Burling told the Daily Telegraph;

“I am super competitive and I want to see the show get back to number one and I think this team will attract more numbers”

In a press release from Nine, NINE’s news boss, Darren Wick said;

“Georgie Gardner, Deb Knight and Tom Steinfort will spearhead an energised and exciting TODAY Show in 2019. We’ve brought together a team from within the Nine family who are already well-known, trusted and liked by Australian viewers.

The news follows reports by Steve Molk on the TV Blackbox podcast that Nine were looking at an all-female line-up, with Sarah Harris a consideration the time;

“The Today show needs to do something and if their main point of difference is to beat Seven to the punch and get in ahead where it’s a two female hosted breakfast show instead of the Nat and Sam show … there’s a point of difference,” Molk said.

Earlier in the day Media commentator Peter Ford posted this exchange with Steinfort on Twitter in response to a post about using public transport;

Karl Stefanovic was sacked while on his honeymoon after two years of negative headlines since leaving his wife. While Stefanovic survived spats with former co-host Lisa Wilkinson and suffered a lack of chemistry with her replacement Georgie Gardner, three issues led to his ultimate downfall.

First there was Ubergate. His frank discussion with brother Peter left a sour taste in the mouths of his bosses. It’s believed Kirsty Thompson, executive producer of 60 minutes, has refused to have him on the show since the call was made public.

If his Kardashian-style wedding in Mexico wasn’t the final straw, then his phone call to executives after they punted his brother was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s said Karl’s future was decided immediately after that call due to the tone he took.

For his part, NINE’s news boss Darren Wick explained the wedding played a major role in NINE’s decision.

"The wedding showed the negative noise was not going anywhere and it was time for us and for Karl to take a rest … to have a breather," Wick said. "We truly believe this is what is best for both the show and for Karl.

"There was no reason for us to wait any longer once we had made the decision. We spoke with Karl's management, and I've got to say it has been pretty amicable.

Brenton Ragless

PHOTO: Supplied

Adelaide newsreader Brenton Ragless had been seen as the likely replacement for Stefanovic and it’s believed he was in fact offered the job, but turned it down for family reasons. Industry insiders have speculated he will now replace Steinfort as the host of Weekend Today but NINE confirmed David Campbell will take over the role to allow Richard Wilkins to host TODAY EXTRA a couple of days a week.

There are conflicting reports though on whether Ragless turned down the job or NINE executives pulled the pin on making him an offer at the last moment.

There’s no doubt the changes for the January 14 launch have not been long in the making. Decisions are being made right down to the wire and the final format of the relaunched show will change between now and the on-air date.

For her part, Deb Knight has been the go-to person for Nine as each crisis has taken hold. When Lisa Wilkinson suddenly departed the Network, it was Knight who filled in until Georgie Gardner assumed the role. With Gardner’s appointment, Knight was offered back-up news reading duties on the 6pm news, reading the Friday and Saturday editions and filling in for Peter Overton. She will most certainly give this up for her new role, which leaves a prime gig waiting for some lucky news reader.

Steinfort has been rising through the ranks at NINE for many years now as a reporter in the Melbourne and Sydney newsrooms as well as foreign correspondent and reporter for A Current Affair and 60 Minutes.

Tom Steinfort & fiancé Claudia Jukic

PHOTO: Instagram

In 2018 Steinfort announced his engagement to girlfriend Claudia Jukic. Executives will like the fact they have a guy who is promotable as a serious reporter and who is taking the next steps in his life as he builds a family. While NINE’s PR department will play on that very heavily, they will presumably be gun-shy about going over-the-top like they did for Peter Stefanovic’s wedding to Sylvia Jeffries.

While many thought Clint Stanaway would take over as sport host, the appointment of Tony Jones means he will most likely read sport from Melbourne multiple times a week, to allow him to continue reading sport for the 6pm news in Melbourne.

Former EP Mark Calvert

PHOTO: Supplied

A wave of changes have already been announced since news emerged Mark Calvert was stepping down as Executive Producer and Director of Morning Television. He was replaced by A Current Affair Executive Producer Steve Burling.

Days later Peter Stefanovic’s contract was not renewed. While his part in the Ubergate scandal played a big part, TV Blackbox also revealed cost cutting at the network was also part of the decision making process.

Then the hits kept coming with the biggest news of all when Karl Stefanovic was sacked while on his honeymoon.

And just when you thought the show couldn’t make any more headlines, newsreader Sylvia Jeffries (and wife of Peter Stefanovic) was moved from the show to present prime time shows (although no titles have been forthcoming at yet) and long-term entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins was demoted to TODAY EXTRA and replaced by Triple J news presenter and brekky host Brooke Boney.

TV Blackbox also understands there will be structural changes behind the scenes as executives stamp out the so-called ‘party culture’ of the production staff. Many team members are on Sydney’s social lists and attend many events.

The industry will be watching ratings very closely in 2019 to see if the new changes bring viewers back to the show, but it’s likely to be a slow process with so many changes. The network will need to decide whether it sticks to the format it is introducing on January 14 or cut its losses and try again if it doesn’t work.