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Karl Stefanovic: Why the loveable larrikin has lost his appeal

The now departed Today Show star is a long way from his former days of Gold Logie glory.
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When Karl Stefanovic joined Today way back in 2005, he was a man hired to save a sinking ship. Sunrise was the unstoppable juggernaut of morning TV, but since Australian culture revels in bantering on-screen spouses to deliver us news at the crack of dawn, Today had a presenter overhaul.

Desperate to take home the morning-show gong, Karl has out-lived three former co-hosts, Tracy Grimshaw, Jessica Rowe and Lisa Wilkinson— the implication being that Karl is the mainstay to the revolving door of female co-hosts, but now it’s all changed following his shock departure from the breakfast show.

We forgave him for being a cot case on live TV, for crying from laughter at the slightest sexual innuendo but once he came for our Kylie, he crossed a line. Then there was the infamous Ubergate scandal and after his extravagant Mexican wedding to his second wife Jasmine Yarbrough, that was it.

We explore the rise and fall of Australia’s highest paid TV host.

The infamous drunk post-Logies show

When fresh-faced Karl hosted the Today show very early ‘the morning after the night before’ back in 2009, he was undeniably legless.

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Reading the weather, he slurred: “It’s going to be fine for most parts, in Queensland, New South Wales and you know what… who cares.”

Lisa tried to salvage the situation, interjecting Tasmania was turning on the weather for Launceston-local, Rebecca Gibney after her Gold Logie win. Karl replied: “How beautiful is Rebecca Gibney? She’s a great sort.”

Admittedly, it does make for hilarious content — Lisa desperately trying to keep a seemingly drunk Karl on track while they stumble through a three-hour show — and Australia didn’t mind a bit.

He was lauded a “true blue Aussie bloke,” while people defended his right to celebrate with a couple of bevvies, but Australia wasn’t always going to be so lenient with him.

Before he was in mid-life crisis territory, he was a dorky dad

Thanks to 13 years on Today, the nation watched Karl get older and slowly morph into a stereotypical dad. He cracked dumb jokes that made his co-hosts groan, would break down in hysterics over a grumpy cat, and he even wrote a cookbook of barbecue recipes.

With sensible Lisa by his side, it was the on-screen pairing of sit-coms and people were lapping it up.

The lovability continued when, in 2014, he revealed he had worn the same suit every day for a year and nobody noticed. He used his suit stunt to highlight the sexism faced by his female counterparts, especially regarding their on-screen wardrobes, for which they are often maligned. The story went global and people applauded his subversive experiment.

The older Karl could also deal with controversy maturely. When he was accused of using transphobic slurs in 2016, he took it on the chin, stared down the barrel of the camera and gave a genuine apology. He admitted he was “an ignorant fool” and was patted on the back for the way he handled the situation.

The same year, the show almost knocked Sunrise from its decade of dominance.

Then came the devastating marriage breakdown

When Karl split with his now ex-wife Cassandra Thorburn, viewers were far from forgiving. Leaving his wife of 21-years and shacking up with a younger model just five months later felt like an all too common tale for many and their support drifted firmly to Cassandra.

In the wake of their divorce, Cassandra hasn’t held back about Karl “leaving [her and their children] for his new life”.

“I realised I was going through stages of grief, and to me it was like someone had died,” she told Woman’s Day exclusively.

“The children still have a father but I don’t have a husband. He really is dead to me and no, we won’t ever be friends again.”

Karl’s loveable larrikin image was undeniably tarnished by his ex-wife’s searing op-eds, but could he bounce back?

And then we had to farewell Karl’s better half, Lisa Wilkinson

Karl and Lisa hosted Today together for 10 years. (Image: Instagram @lisa_wilkinson)

Lisa spectacularly left the show after a contract dispute. The woman who sat next to Karl, doing the exact same job as him for ten years, had demanded to be paid the same, something that resonated with millions of Aussie women across the country.

Nine Chief executive Hugh Marks backed Karl and said Lisa’s dismissal was over the fact she wasn’t loyal to Nine’s brand, despite also admitting he offered her $200k less than Karl.

“She has a number of commercial rights with other parties. Her arrangement with the Huffington Post restricts our ability to engage with her digitally… We are restricted from engaging with her also on social media,” he said.

“I hate the fact we have to compare her with Karl but with him we have all those rights. With Lisa we do not.”

He didn’t comment on the fact she might need those other jobs to achieve pay parity with Karl.

Despite the comments, neither Karl nor the network came out of the situation particularly well. Some viewers condemned Karl for “betraying” his co-host and not falling on his sword or encouraging Lisa to get the salary she deserved, although Lisa never suggested that.


The dreaded Uber controversy

Now dealing with a tumultuous personal life, Karl also had all eyes on him at work while they launched their new team.

After Lisa’s departure, Today brought back Georgie Gardner who left the show four years earlier. She’d been with Today for seven years but there was speculation her and Karl didn’t get on all that well.

WATCH: Karl repeatedly making jibes at Georgie’s absence from the 2009 post-Logies show.

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But on Georgie’s first day in the role this year, Sunrise won the ratings game and since then, Today has only won one ratings week… the week Stefanovic was away.

Around this time, Karl called his brother and they complained about work—inexplicably on speakerphone—in the back of an Uber.

They ragged on Georgie for not having an enough opinions (not something women are used to hearing), Richard Wilkins being too protective of his entertainment industry contacts, 60 Minutes becoming irrelevant and claiming the entire Channel 9 board of management are out of touch.

WATCH: Karl Stefanovic and Georgie Gardner’s awkward reunion. Post continues…

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The Uber driver shopped around a recording of the conversation until someone told him it was illegal, and then he recounted in impressive detail the conversation between the brothers from “memory”.

Although the admissions were controversial they weren’t all that shocking,– it was the timing that did most of the damage. It happened the same week Karl held a “commitment ceremony”, sans children, with his girlfriend Jasmine Yarbrough — another unpopular move with his waning fan base.

After the news surfaced, Georgie called Karl “pathetic” when he expressed a fear of dachshunds, and the next day, producers had shipped everyone but Karl off set to deal with obvious tensions.

That bizarre Kylie Minogue interview

Then, just days later, Kylie Minogue gave an emotional interview to 60 Minutes, promoting her new album Golden and touching on life in the spotlight.

Viewers felt Karl’s responses more than missed the mark, calling the interviewer creepy and unprofessional on Twitter.

“Well, you’re doing it very well. I mean, it helps obviously that you’re a hot 50-year-old,” he leered.

Kylie was instantly uncomfortable with the comment and awkwardly replied, “Oh, well, thanks. We try, we try.”

There was a long, awkward pause while Karl chuckled until she eventually added: “I mean, I don’t know what to say to that,” Kylie eventually added.

Karl proceeded to tell Kylie she should “stop dating incredibly good-looking d**kheads”.

Social media were quick to denounce the interview, comparing it to the trainwreck conducted by the same program while interviewing Jacinda Ardern.

Although on their own, these offences might have been excusable, their build-up has resulted in a change of image for Karl. Public opinion has definitely been swayed, but will he be able to win them back or is his reputation damaged forever? Has the media mainstay finally succumbed to the fickle world of morning TV like his former co-hosts?

The big fat Mexican wedding

Karl and Jasmine tied the knot in December 2018. (Image: Supplied)

In December, Karl and his 34 year-old bride Jasmine Yarbrough tied the knot in a lavish Mexican wedding celebration that spanned over three days.

But according to the Sydney Morning Herald, sources say that the wedding was the final straw.

“Nine looked at the coverage of Karl’s wedding in horror,” says one source. “It was the final straw; they knew it was damaging their brand and p—ing off their viewers.”

“Yachts and big overseas weddings don’t translate to Today‘s audience,” another added. “You have to remember it’s aimed at white-bread suburban Australia.”

The predominantly female audience were also not impressed at how quick he rebounded from his first wife Cass Thorburn, his first wife of 21 years and mother to his three children Jackson, 19, Ava, 13 and River, 12, all three of whom didn’t attend his wedding.

“No one’s saying Karl has done anything wrong [in his private life],” one TV insider said. “His divorce is a matter for him and Cass. But when your ex-wife is clearly upset – and you’re living it up with your glamorous new girlfriend [in public] – it undermines that ‘family man’ image.”

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