What will the Seven Network do, now that Anna Coren appears set to depart Today Tonight?

The Network won’t have a host for TT next year if there is truth in rumours Anna Coren is negotiating with CNN and, according to reports, will be spending 2009 offshore. Seven tried to get Karl Stefanovic to leave Nine; the story got publicity on Friday and Saturday, but went nowhere so Seven issued another statement last night.

Nine tried to fight back by making some wild claims that also went nowhere: all in all it had all the hallmarks of a network spoiler that fizzed.

Seven issued this statement last night:

Karl wanted to come to Seven. He expressed his desire to join us in a private meeting with David Leckie.

He signed an agreement on terms. Nine matched that offer. We have moved on. Quickly.

Seven rejects all of the fanciful claims surrounding this issue made by Nine in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph.

Karl saw his future being at Seven. There was no dinner meeting. There was a meeting one morning two weeks ago to discuss and agree on Karl leaving Nine.

The issue for Nine is to meet Karl’s career objectives — objectives he clearly expressed to us and which indicated a desire to not be in breakfast television or at Nine past February next year. This in itself raises a number of issues for Nine’s management of its people and its news and public affairs programmes, including Today and A Current Affair.

As grand as that sounds, the fact is that Karl Stefanovic is “family” at Nine. He was invited to James Packer’s second wedding, has taken holidays in the Packer plane and boat and he’s close to Nine boss, David Gyngell, and his wife, Leila McKinnon.

Seven tried to see if Stefanovic would move networks to host TT when it became clear that Anna Coren would not re-sign.

Seven also leaked the information about Stefanovic to weaken the Today Show, which has been making up ground against Seven’s Sunrise, and also to weaken A Current Affair, which has been soundly beaten all this year by TT with Ms Coren in the chair.

Now the station doesn’t have a host for 2009 and Nine will probably swap hosts at ACA and drop Karl Stefanovic in there, as his contract says it will.

Seven has finally understood that hosting TT leaves a journalist or presenter nowhere to move when they get sick of it. Naomi Robson is no longer with Seven.

The only life for a women or male journalist hosting TT or ACA is to go back on the Network news roster and go from being a rooster or top chick, to a mere feather duster or news hack. It’s a long way from hosting TT or ACA and the News Ltd tabloids, gossip magazines and rival networks would make sure everyone was aware of the comedown. You have to have a strong ego and self esteem for that, and after two years or more in the hosts’ chairs at both programs, even the toughest of people are battered souls.

Sam Armytage is the most obvious candidate to fill the slot, but she should look at why Ms Coren and Ms Robson have left and wonder why. In many respects Seven has mishandled the departure of Ms Coren, who has been negotiating since March when Ian Ross re-signed as the Sydney newsreader. Media reports say she told the Network then she was looking at her options.

Now the speculation will start about TT and about ACA in 2009.

Of the two slots TT is more important to Seven because Ms Coren and the program generated solid ratings all year and good earnings, earnings which are suddenly more important than ever after Seven’s surprise profit downgrade this morning.

Peter Fray

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