With Today's ratings in freefall and Nine executives panicking over its near death, secret negotiations are still underway to bring back Karl Stefanovic, but only if he meets strict conditions and makes a heartfelt apology for "stuffing up".
"Of course Nine are denying it, but it's 100 per cent correct that they are actively chasing Karl to come back – everyone at the network knows Today needs the TV version of open-heart surgery to even survive," one industry executive confirms.
"The biggest problem is that it's a massive clash of egos. They want Karl to come back and admit defeat, and publicly acknowledge he had to leave because of personal issues. But he's refusing to do it, insisting his private problems remain private."
While the axed Today host is refusing to yield, privately Karl, 44, has broken down to friends, lamenting over how fast his star has fallen, and how down in the dumps he's over what his future holds if his attempted comeback fails.
"He just hasn't been his usual self in the last few weeks," reveals one close mate, who says his little brother Peter's return to TV, hosting a Sky crime documentary, and wife Jasmine's successful shoe business has left him feeling at rock bottom.
WATCH: Karl Stefanovic shares intimated video from his wedding to Jasmine Yarbrough. Story continues after video...
"Karl has very little to do each day, other than catch up with mates for lunch, and even those have become rather sombre affairs, because he's so unhappy. He's always previously been the one to pick up the tab, but now his mates are shouting him because they feel sorry for him."
It's common knowledge that Karl still banks an extraordinary $3 million salary because of his watertight contract, but friends say he's now "terrified" about what happens when the contract ends in 2020 – because he's spent a "shedload" in the past two years.
"The lifestyle he and Jasmine have doesn't come cheap – renting two beautiful homes, school fees, new cars, overseas trips – and what's left over doesn't go as far as you'd think.
"When he tested the market recently, he had a massive reality check. Sky News reached out to him, and offered him a lot less than what he's earning now.
"But I wouldn't write him off. Karl's one of the best negotiators in the business, and he knows he's the best hope to save Today – he's just got to eat some humble pie! But he needs to do something fast because there's also talk of dumping Today because it's riddled with problems."
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