Deborah Knight and Georgie Gardner on Today.
Deborah Knight and Georgie Gardner on Today.

Nine’s extraordinary defence of besieged Today host Georgie

Nine's director of current affairs has issued an explosive statement slamming media coverage of the network's ailing breakfast program, Today.

The unprecedented move came after The Daily Telegraph published an article about Today's continued ratings slide. Only 168,000 viewers across the five metro cities tuned in to the program on Monday - a record low - compared to 287,000 for Seven's rival Sunrise.

Nine had held "closed-door crisis meetings" following the result in which secret focus groups had found audiences were not warming to the show's new co-anchor Georgie Gardner, The Telegraph reported.

The report quoted a network insider who said viewers' opinions of Gardner were: "They find her cold, an ice maiden."

In a detailed statement issued to media today, Nine news and current affairs director Darren Wick slammed the report as "deliberate bullying".

Deborah Knight and Georgie Gardner on Today.
Deborah Knight and Georgie Gardner on Today.

"This is one of the most deliberate acts of bullying I've ever seen," said Mr Wick, who said the claim viewers saw Gardner as an "ice maiden" was not true.

Mr Wick also denied the network had held any focus groups for Today so far in 2019.

"Nine conducted a number of focus groups throughout the last six months of 2018, under my supervision, and the feedback from those viewers was overwhelmingly positive about Georgie Gardner. She rated head and shoulders above every other on-air presenter," Mr Wick said.

He added that the feedback was "consistent with all Today show focus groups" held during the past seven years he had been in the news director role.

"I don't shy away from the weaker numbers the Today show has recorded in 2019. But just five weeks into a new team on-air, we're not about to hit the panic button," Mr Wick said.

"We've been through this battle before with other programs, where a section of the media is quick to write us off. We're in for the long haul."

Mr Wick said Gardner was "upset" about the report.

"She's disappointed, she's naturally upset but she keeps it to herself," he said.

"Let's hold together and show we're better and stronger than everything that's going to come at us.

"She's pretty solid, she's pretty good. She's a really good, cracking person."

Industry insiders were shocked when fewer than 200,000 people tuned in for the first show with Gardner, new co-host Deborah Knight, Tom Steinfort, Tony Jones and Brooke Boney at the helm on January 14. The new-look team was brought in after former host Karl Stefanovic was dumped last year while he was on his honeymoon with new bride Jasmine Yarbrough.

Less than a month later, the ratings dropped further with just 177,000 people tuning in on February 6.

Channel 10 star Grant Denyer spoke about those woeful ratings at the time on his 2Day FM radio show and said they simply weren't "sustainable".

 

Darren Wick with Nine newsreader Wendy Kingston. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian
Darren Wick with Nine newsreader Wendy Kingston. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian

"Breakfast is ultimately entertainment," Denyer said. "There's two newsreaders (Knight and Gardner) that are now anchors. Newsreaders aren't entertainers. They deliver facts.

"To dip below 200,000 is not sustainable. You can't continue like that because it won't be profitable. You can try and stick it out … but the damage that's been done by Karl is so significant that I don't think that they can recover from that."

David Knox, from industry website TV Tonight, agreed Nine had an uphill battle on its hands but refused to say the show couldn't recover.

"Breakfast TV is notoriously habitual, and it would be easier to turn around the QEII than an underperforming show," Knox told news.com.au.

"Viewers are rusted on and do not like change. That said, Nine had to respond to a year of poor figures and bad headlines.

"The rapport between Georgie and Deb is good, and Tom's strength lays in live news reportage. Some viewers have questioned whether Richard Wilkins actually left the show, why Tony Jones is not sitting alongside the team and why (weather presenter) Steve Jacobs isn't on the road more for weather.

"There is still room to tweak but Nine has to hold its nerve."

Nine morning TV director Steve Burling also spoke to news.com.au after the poor figures from February 6 and remained upbeat.

"It's very early days and rating figures will continue to fluctuate, but I'm absolutely thrilled with the dynamic between Georgie, Deb, Tom and the entire on-air team," he said. "And, I'm confident that the audience will be turning to us in the weeks and months ahead."



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