“Yes, I am as shocked about this as everyone else,” Stefanovic admitted during an exclusive interview with the Herald on Friday.
“It’s not something that I thought would come up again. I thought my time was up, but then, when I was sounded out about it, it got me thinking. It’s a big job with enormous pressures and I know only too well some of those pitfalls, but it is also without question the best live TV job in Australia.”
But what sort of kingdom will he return to?
“Look, I think comparisons with other teams is unfair,” he diplomatically offered when asked about the troubled Gardner/Knight combination.
“My colleagues have been through an extremely difficult time dealing with outside forces and I know that better than anyone. It is hard enough to be across the story briefs up early every day without those storms from outside impacting you. I know what great journalists they are, how professional and how hard they work, and I admire them both.”
What the future holds for Gardner and Knight is unclear, although Sonia Kruger’s imminent departure from Today Extra to rival network Seven to host the re-booted Big Brother leaves at least one spot vacant.
Steinfort is expected to resurface at 60 Minutes, while entertainment reporters Brooke Boney and Richard Wilkins are likely to remain on Today. Potential new sports presenters will be “trialled” over summer.
Stefanovic’s new contract with Nine, the owner of this masthead, is believed to be less than the $3 million per year he managed to negotiate in 2015 when he and Today were on a ratings high. Stefanovic refused to be drawn on how much the contract was worth; however, Today’s average daily national audience is down 18 per cent on last year.
His new co-host Langdon is an old friend and colleague, and they have already worked together over the past 15 years. Stefanovic encouraged a younger Langdon to move from a producer’s role to a reporting role.
Langdon, a mother of two small children who says she leads a “very boring” home life, is a seasoned current affairs journalist in her own right. More recently she has been cutting her teeth on breakfast television as Weekend Today co-host, ironically sitting next to Stefanovic’s younger brother Peter, who parted ways with Nine soon after his brother was deposed.
“We are great mates but I don’t always agree with everything he says … and he knows that,” a confident Langdon said of her new “work husband”, adding “I can promise you we won’t be boring”.
As for the constant scrutiny: “That is just noise that I intend to block out. My focus is on delivering three-and-a-half hours of live television every morning; on sharing the stories in our unique way; drawing on our combined experience and creating something new.”
Stefanovic admitted the road ahead was a long one.
“We are going to fight hard to win back those viewers. My personal life is very settled now, we are happy,” he said.
“My work focus is solely on our stories and the way we tell them. We will have fun and when the time calls for it, we will be serious. We’ve covered big stories all around the world, we know how to do that … and yes, we are hungry for success.”
Hungry enough to knock rival Sunrise off its No.1 ratings perch?
“I have great respect for everyone working in the timeslot, our focus is on getting our show right … the rest will follow when we have done that,” he said.
The stakes are high. Today accounts for an estimated $60 million in annual advertising revenue. While the show is profitable, there is no denying plummeting ratings threaten its long-term viability.
Stefanovic and Langdon are due to start in early January. They will host the show from the existing studios in Nine before relocating to a new, multimillion-dollar studio in 2020 that is currently being built in North Sydney.
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.