The ladies of Today were handed a lemon, and the ratings prove it.
Even with Georgie Gardner and Deborah Knight trying the best they can on Today the morning breakfast has been hit with another ratings bump.
The Nine programme continues to struggle post-Karl Stefanovic as the new look format tries to finds its feet while pulling in its poorest ratings in more than a decade.
According to news.com.au’s reporting, this week’s figures of the five major cities from ratings agency OzTam show on Wednesday just 177,000 people woke up with Today—this compared to 300,000 who switched on to Channel 7 rival, Sunrise. The Channel Nine show hasn’t seen lower figures than Wednesday’s since Boxing Day 2007—as news.com.au points out that was during the “notoriously quiet Christmas, New Year” ratings period.
The Channel Nine show has already been looking to change the duo, but before we go ragging on Georgie and Deb—the two women making history as the first female duo on morning TV in Australia, YAHOOOOO!—we’d be wise to remember these competent and capable journos have been tasked with the near impossible task of salvaging a show that’s been hemorrhaging viewers since well before either of them took their spot at the desk.
A brief history of Today’s downturn
In early January Nine surprised audiences with the news that Karl’s replacement on the 2019 lineup would be veteran broadcaster Deborah Knight. For many it was an unexpected pick but one that may signaled the beginning of a new age in Australian TV.
When I wrote about this at the time I said that the departure from the male-female co-host formula must have meant Nine’s bosses were “confident the Knight/Georgie Gardner pairing would be the winning formula they need to win over national audiences.” I caveated that by saying wasn’t so sure about that claim then, and I’m certainly not sure about it now.
You see, Stefanovic’s exit from his longtime posting seemed abrupt (he never had an on-air g’bye?) but it wasn’t entirely shocking. On the surface the negative press circling around his messy divorce and new relationship with Jasmine Yarbrough—the pair got married in Mexico in December last year—was hard for viewers to ignore. Like or dislike Karlos, the coverage on his personal life was gross and constant, and it came at a time when the Today ratings weren’t exactly flourishing.
But it wasn’t just Karl—or his role in Ubergate—that had turning audiences off Today; they were off it a long time before that.
One Nine insider told whimn.com.au in January that the show’s producers knew their audience isn’t being lost to their direct competitor, Sunrise, with Samantha Armytage and David ‘Kochie’ Koch. Rather, as the source said it’s the silliness of commercial brekkie TV that had worn on audiences. “The audiences are there, but instead of Nine or Seven they’re going for serious news like the ABC,” the source, says.
This might be evidenced by Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, an animated ABC Kids series targeted at preschoolers that this Wednesday was the highest-rated non free-to-air program; it actually came within just 20,000 viewers of beating Today, reports news.com.au.
And the ratings prior to Deb’s first day told a similar story of a slump. With local TV networks observing the 40-week ratings season—a system that excludes Christmas and Easter holidays—August 2018 revealed Today’s worst ratings in four years. To be clear, both Sunrise and News Breakfast (ABC) also suffered annual losses but the ABC’s damage (254,000 to 245,000) was pretty minuscule and when considering the modest set up the national broadcaster works with, it was actually a win.
So while every bone in my feminist body is willing me to cheer on the historical appointment of two women at the helm of an Australian icon like Today, the show’s current dire ratings leaves me to once again pondering two wonderfully successful women are on the precious of a glass cliff collapse?
Before I go on let me just say regardless of gender, there’s no doubt Knight is qualified for the job. She was the Nine Network’s US correspondent, has decades of experience and she’s got the sharp wit that’s perfect for morning TV.
But as The Australian’s Deborah Cornwall quite rightly noted earlier in January, “A female double act on commercial TV — let alone women both well into their 40s — would never have been contemplated in Nine’s golden era under Kerry Packer.”
So why now?
Why when the show is arguably facing its hardest challenges to date has the network decided it’s time to give the ladies a go? Are these women being handed a lemon, only to be blamed if it fails?
In an effort to make some changes to the show the producers are hit with some hard decisions. Channel Nine has not released a statement to either deny rumors that Deborah will be cut from the morning lineup nor confirm what their big change will be. I am personally routing for the Duo to hold on, but with such low ratings in the first 2 months of casting they may have no choice, but to try something different to maintain its viewership.