For viewers waking up with Today this morning, longtime host Lisa Wilkinson was missing, and there’s no obvious contender to replace her.
Media analyst Peter Cox told Crikey there wasn’t an obvious replacement to sit in the chair next to co-host Karl Stefanovic: “There’s no easy standout for that slot, but I don’t know that it matters too much.” And while Nine said in its announcement last night that it was considering its options for the direction of the show, Cox thinks it unlikely that Stefanovic will be dropped just yet.
“Karl has had a very tumultuous couple of years, but I certainly don’t think they’d want to lose both hosts at the same time. It’s taken them a long time to catch up to Seven, and it’s now a very close battle between them.”
The last-minute stand-in for Wilkinson this morning was Weekend Today host Deb Knight, but she hasn’t made most commentators’ shortlists for the role.
Current newsreader Sylvia Jeffreys has been the usual fill-in for Wilkinson since she started on the program in 2014, and was widely believed to have filled in well over summer alongside now-husband Peter Stefanovic — the current host’s brother.
Entertainment reporter Peter Ford told the Kyle and Jackie O Show this morning his top picks were Georgie Gardner, who left her job as newsreader on Today in 2014 for an evening news-reading gig on the same network, and Chris Bath, the former newsreader for Seven’s rival program Sunrise, but who is currently an ABC radio presenter in Sydney.
Roving reporter Lara Vella and Nine News Sydney reporter Jayne Azzopardi both did stints on the show over Christmas — a spot that network insiders told The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year acted as an audition for brekky host wannabes.
Another Nine personality who’s been rising in prominence on the network is journalist Rebecca Maddern. The AFL Footy Show co-host was one of the faces hosting the unexpected hit Australian Ninja Warrior.
But Cox said there was a chance Nine might poach a personality from another network — even from Wilkinson’s new network home of Ten.
“Perhaps this is the time to buy Mel Doyle back from Seven, because she has been missed on breakfast TV,” he said. “Or they might even buy Carrie Bickmore off Ten.”
Wilkinson announced she was leaving Today, effective immediately, by tweeting a statement from Nine last night, and shortly afterwards following it up with a statement from Ten announcing she would join The Project‘s hosting team, would host The Sunday Project, and have other projects with the network, yet to be announced. She had been hosting Today for 10 years alongside Stefanovic.