He can commandeer Live breaking news such as terror on the streets of Paris at short notice. He can make Prime Ministers squirm and switch from serious news to larrikin humour like few of his peers.
But Karl Stefanovic’s name is also synonymous with clickbait. His marriage break-up has made headlines and sold magazines for the past 2 years. A phone call overheard in an Uber car added fuel to the fire. Paparazzi follow him with regularity. Online journos have him in the cross-hairs on a daily basis, waiting for another foot-in-mouth moment.
While such public scrutiny comes from ‘own goal’ moments, Stefanovic isn’t the only man in the media to endure a marriage break-up, he is arguably the highest-profile in recent times.
And although he accepts such comes with the job, he doesn’t get the longevity of it as a story and there is anger in his voice.
“I’m the world’s most boring f***ing man.”
“If I was in any way a bad person, you would have found out in the last 2 years,” he tells TV Tonight. “Over the weekend I had 4 sets of paparazzi, and I’ve got my kids. I don’t know why. It’s complete bullshit. Why am I of interest? I’m the world’s most boring f***ing man.
“I go to work, I go home, I go for walks.
“I have my ugg boots on, my track suit pants, my AC/ DC shirt and I’m watching Stan in front of the fire. That’s as exciting as I get.
“I know there has been interest in my private life and I guess that comes with the territory. It’s a reality for anyone in the public eye. But it’s only going to get more intense for people and you have to decide if you want to stick it out in the job.
“If you’re a politician or in the media you have to be ready to forgo privacy. And you can’t complain, because it gets worse. You have to be prepared to give up most of your private life, because you can’t do anything about it.”
“I’ve been broken in the last 2 years”
Stefanovic says there have been times when he has considered throwing in his Today role.
“100%” he insists.
“I’ve been broken in the last 2 years, but you still have to come to work and do a breakfast show,” before adding, “There are a lot more people in this world going through hardship than Karl Stefanovic.”
Paparazzi and scandals aside, Stefanovic still enjoys Today. Say what you like about the merits of the genre, it can’t be a pushover to front 3.5hrs of Live TV in 5:30am starts for 14 years.
This week the show is being hosted from Melbourne for a full week for the first time in 12 years. Stefanovic says it is long overdue.
“I think it’s the home of television. I’ve always pressured for us to do more down here,” he continues.
“I’ve always said I would love to do the show permanently out of Melbourne -but that would probably be dramas for everyone else in the show! But I would do it here in a heartbeat.”
“Of course we are here because our numbers are not good”
But Today is also hoping to show the Melbourne-love because is it trailing Sunrise. While Nine has won 6 weeks in Melbourne this year, Sunrise has 11 under its belt. The audience average is much tighter with Today‘s 59,000 to Sunrise‘s 61,000.
“It’s a problem for us,” Stefanovic acknowledges.
“You have to give back to a city. It’s our fault for letting them go. Of course we are here because our numbers are not good. But they aren’t good because we haven’t connected with this city for a long time.”
Based at GTV9 studios this week, the Today set isn’t discernible to the average viewer to one in Sydney. Shouldn’t the show capitalise on its location with an outdoor broadcast?
“I pushed back on that. I think outdoor broadcasts can be distracting for a viewer. We will get out and do stories here. But an outside broadcast needs to be for a reason, or based around an event,” he continues.
“I love being here with Melbourne content and no distractions. But for everyone else around Australia, it doesn’t look any different. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Another recent addition has been on-air editorials, some of which are scripted, on various topics. Last week he admonished Hugo Weaving and the Sunrise team for declining to attend the Logie Awards. According to the man, it was just a joke….
“Everyone responded in a serious way. They need to have a little sense of humour. It was just a pisstake.
“I don’t mind a bit of a needle.”
So are editorials serious, cheeky, authentic or jumping on populist bandwagons? Indeed, how can viewers tell?
“Whatever it is I will do it because I think it’s important,” he assures. I’m not going to respond to or cash-in on a perceived bandwagon. If I think something is genuinely important I will do it. But not all the time because it waters down the significance of it. But if I think something needs to be articulated and I want to capture what the audience may be thinking but can’t (articulate) because they don’t have an avenue to do it, then I will do it.”
“There’s got to be a level of spontaneity”
If it’s a case of the host feeding clickbait journalists through his own behaviour, Stefanovic maintains that he has a pretty good radar on where the boundaries are.
“Sometimes you run the risk of upsetting people if you don’t get it right. I’ve been doing it for 14 years so I think I know where the boundary is. I think I do.
“And I will keep doing that because there’s got to be a level of spontaneity. I have a 4 or 5 second assessment in my mind on whether something is going to work,” he suggests.
“I might think of something I want to say to the Prime Minister but I think it might be offensive to (someone).
“But the social media backlash is significant. Anyone who goes into this business now has to be prepared for a certain amount of online and social media responses to whatever you do. It’s so intense. You have to have a thick skin. You will not make it in TV anymore if you don’t have a thick skin.
“A fancy or misleading headline will get X amount of clicks. That’s what I think is a problem. The Daily Mail, particularly, are running headlines that don’t actually resemble the story just for a click.
“Journos are being judged on how any clicks they get for their stories so therefore that feeds into a misleading headline or first paragraph.
“If you’re being judged by your clicks then that is a slippery slope.”
Belatedly, our attention turns to co-host Georgie Gardner who returned to Today in January. Uber-calls notwithstanding, Stefanovic is on his best behaviour in praising his popular, measured co-host.
“Georgie has been a remarkable change in the show. She brings so much professionalism and commitment to the show. I loved working with Lisa, I love working with Georgie,” he says.
“I got to learn off Lisa and I’m getting to learn off Georgie as well.”
It sure sounds authentic.
Today airs 5:30am weekdays on Nine.