Karl Stefanovic knows that anything he says or does on Today could go on to become a headline, but insists he’s just being himself -and reminds us he has 3.5 hours of Live television to fill every day.
But by the same token, he acknowledges the currency of being spoken about in today’s media landscape. It’s something worth remembering when reportage become unfair or speculates on backstage rumours.
“It’s never really worried me. I do my own thing and it’s important to be yourself. So whether I’m talking to the media or a viewer, there’s really no difference. Yes, it does get me in trouble sometimes from a media perspective, but I’m never gonna change,” he told TV Tonight.
“I don’t do it to provoke or prompt some sort of reaction. I do it because that’s what I believe. So people saying I deliberately do things, is not the case. I just am who I am, and will continue to be until Nine says ‘Dude, that’s not cool.’ Or Publicity get really shitty with me. But I always like to be as honest as I can with journalists who are interviewing me.
“It annoys me a little bit when, in the last couple of weeks there’s been speculation about (producer) Mark Calvert. Or they’ve said Lisa and I have been complaining. That has not happened. I don’t know where that’s come from or who’s driving that, but it really shits me. If someone has a problem they should come to us.
“To hear that, it’s really hurtful to Mark Calvert who’s working his arse off. He’s a great EP.
“I’ve supported every one of our EPs and let’s face it we’ve had a few. I don’t think there’s any benefit in going behind an EP’s back, and complaining to upstairs about them. There’s no point. If you have a problem then have it out with the EP and if it doesn’t go anywhere then…. But Mark’s doing a great job and I love working with him.”
Stefanovic seemingly wears his free-wheeling role like a badge of honour. Even that notorious 2009 post-Logies recovery was like an Australian rite of passage. Two years later he won the Gold Logie. He can gravitate with apparent ease from a serious interview with a politician to an off-script moment that creates ripples for the wrong reason.
“People say I try too hard to be funny, but I’ve got 3.5 hours to fill. So I’ll do an interview with the Prime Minister and then I might be an idiot later in the show. But it’s yin and yang, light and shade. That’s all I’m trying to do for the viewer. But I think that gets lost in some of the reporting, sometimes. I do an interview as well as most people and I do breaking news as well as I can,” he explains.
Stefanovic, who once auditioned for NIDA, relishes breaking news but admits he is also fascinated by comic timing.
“I’m not a comedian and I don’t think that’s my forehand, but I am interested in it and it’s a side of my personality. There’s much more thought that goes into it.
“I love communicating but I think I’ve probably ended up in the right job. I think I would have been a fairly average comedian.”
A recent interview with Barbra Streisand, in which he sang to the legendary performer, was his most recent eyebrow-raiser. Stefanovic says it was actually a 20 minute interview but there was an embargo on some of the content.
“I got pilloried for that. In the end I’m always gonna have a crack at that stuff. Some people will laugh, some will find it offensive –but I’m gonna do it. Jimmy Fallon did it, Robin Roberts on Good Morning America did the same thing but I happened to do I fist and got pilloried for it.”
The clip was taken off Nine’s website, due to Sony and not the network, he insists. In fact he sees merit in being part of the conversation, sometimes at personal cost. Does that mean it’s better to be spoken about than not at all?
“That’s modern media, but I’m not complaining because that drives some of what I do as well. Getting an interview out there for people talk about is interesting to me. I don’t think you always have to do something stupid, but there has to be something interesting in it that differentiates it from the others, I believe. Not all of the time, but some of the time,” he says.
“People having dialogue over what you do is a very important aspect of modern media. Otherwise you can get lost in the noise.
“There’s always a line, and quite often I get the line wrong but with modern media the way it is you’ve got to give people a reason to watch.”
National conversations are also an important part of the mix when breakfast television is so competitive. Today has been trailing Sunrise across the year, despite being neck and neck in mid 2013.
“We’ve had an up and down year. There’s no doubt about that fact, or denying that. But it’s really forced us to look inside, and take a real microscope look at what we’re doing and try and discover what’s working and not working –without trying to fuss too much on the ratings. But that’s always difficult to do. You can’t look at day to day (numbers). You have to look at trends.”
While Sunrise has benefitted by the arrival of Sam Armytage, Today has suffered by the exit of Georgie Gardner. In November, it will farewell Ben Fordham -changes that Stefanovic acknowledges impact on the audience.
“Anytime you have a long term presenter on a show there will be a bit of that, but the seeds have been planted for rejuvenation. It will take some time but I’d like to think you’ll start to see the benefits of that long term, hopefully by the start of next year. But you never know,” he concedes.
His current contract for Today runs until the end of 2015, and Stefanovic has no plans to change his presentation style anytime soon.
“What you see is what you get. If you see these moments, they’re not about me thinking about things for a long time, they’re just spur of the moment, Live TV things, you just do it, the director goes with you and it just turns into a moment,” he says.
“Unless you’re having ‘moments’ what are we doing? We’re paid a lot of money to try and get people to watch. Apart from doing a great job in news and current affairs –which is vital– we’re there to entertain as well.”
Tomorrow: Part 2: Karl comes to the defence of Sam Armytage.