Article by Sophie Aubrey /
October 18, 2017 /
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Few television duos has been so loved and revered as Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson.
Australia has, after all, watched the dynamic between them evolve for more than 10 years on the Nine Network’s The Today Show. Stefanovic, the fun, Aussie larrikin, and Wilkinson, the sharp-witted voice of reason. But on Monday night, this seemingly unbreakable pairing was cleaved in two.
While all eyes have been on Lisa as she exits a network that refused to pay her a salary worth as much as her co-host, there has been one other person stealing the public’s gaze: Stefanovic.
Fans got their answer on Tuesday morning when, at 5.30am, a “shocked” Stefanovic opened the breakfast show by declaring it was a “big day”.
Two hours later, the 43-year-old would steer the show’s official send-off, thanking Lisa for all “the laughs, the sage advice, the calmness” in their decade seated side-by-side.
“For 10 years she handled the brutal hours with a grace, beauty, intelligence and wicked sense of humour. For whatever reason, she won’t be doing that now,” he said.
“Whatever you do, and wherever you go, you do so having made your mark on this show and on this man.”
It was a gracious, well-written and rather emotional goodbye.
But this farewell, abruptly cobbled together by Today producers, was not the farewell Wilkinson deserved. Not after 10 years of service.
While pay negotiations were going on behind the scenes for many months with her Nine bosses, it came as a complete surprise for the bulk of us.
In the world of showbiz, arrangements to send someone out the door can be actioned brutally quick. Women like Robin Bailey, Maz Compton, Melissa Doyle, Chris Bath and Emma Freedman experienced this to varying degrees.
But Wilkinson’s departure was so brusque, she didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her devoted fans.
Naturally, viewers were displeased with how things unfolded, with many vowing to “break up with Today”.
And then, all of a sudden, people turned on her co-host.
Discussions began playing out on social media: Should Stefanovic have taken more of a stand for his long-term co-host? Should he have at least posted a message on Twitter? Should he have gone so far as to go on strike? Or even to offer to cop a pay cut, like the Big Bang Theory’s male actors did for their female co-stars?
He is a man who has prided himself on being an ally to women. From his infamous year-long suit stunt to this year’s ferocious takedown of the Daily Mail and as recently as last week, his strong condemnation of Harvey Weinstein and the treatment of Hollywood women. So why, viewers are asking, has he stayed so tight-lipped on the gender pay gap where it directly impacts his co-star?
It’s only natural for people to feel frustrated. But that emotional response, the disappointment, is born out of the illusion of the perfect duo that has been sold to us since 2007. It’s an illusion that helps viewers forget the suits behind the scenes who created it — the very men responsible for the pay disparity.
Veteran entertainment journalist Peter Ford, who is heard on radios across Australia, put it bluntly when asked by Mamamia for his insight.
“They were work buddies, not personal friends as such. They were both employed and now one is not employed,” he said.
Being successful in breakfast TV and radio often hinges on making audiences believe that the two hosts are best friends. But Ford says the reality is that this is not usually the case, rather they are simply two professionals who save any chemistry they might have for when they’re on air together.
Ford said Stefanovic’s response was “completely appropriate”.
“He was thoroughly respectful and professional in the way he spoke about it. I don’t know what else he was meant to do,” he said.
“He can’t sit there weeping and wailing all morning, the show has to continue.”
Pop culture commentator and Melbourne University lecturer Dr Lauren Rosewarne agreed, saying it would be naive to assume that Stefanovic would be loyal to his colleague to the point of getting involved in a pay spat.
“He can only do what he did which is give a gracious goodbye… He has to look like he’s shocked, that he’s disappointed, that he’s sad. He did all those things,” she told Mamamia.
That this is all that Stefanovic could do might be a fact that is difficult to digest when he has been so intrinsically tied to the Wilkinson narrative.
We have been told that Wilkinson was earning about half the money Stefanovic was on, a reported $2 million. We know that the audience’s preference for Wilkinson soared earlier this year, at a time when Stefanovic’s 21-year marriage breakdown and new romance was doing no favours for his image in the eyes of female viewers. These two elements, both tied to Stefanovic, were no doubt what drove Wilkinson to fight for pay equality.
Even now, Nine continues to mash the two together. The TV Giant went so far as to apparently expose Stefanovic’s salary in comments from CEO Hugh Marks printed by the The Daily Telegraph, which allege details about the private contract negotiations between Wilkinson and the Nine Network, as well as directly compare the two presenters, saying Stefanovic was “worth more money” because of his other commitments on the network, while Wilkinson had commercial arrangements with rivals, like Huffington Post.
But to suggest that any of this is the fault of Stefanovic is misguided. It’s simply not how the industry works.
Ford stressed that, despite Stefanovic’s name being dragged into just about every single news report about Wilkinson, he didn’t have the power to influence what happened between his co-worker and the Nine Network.
“He might be disappointed but that’s different to being angry. He might have wished the outcome were different and she’d stayed on… (But) he’s not privy or involved in the negotiating process.”
As for his lack of social media postings in the last 48 hours? Well, he’s not much of a social media user.
“(Only) if he was one of those people posting six things a day you’d think it was odd,” Ford said.
And even if Stefanovic now wanted to take a stand for Wilkinson and for pay equality, the likeliest scenario is he simply can’t.
There’s an expectation, most often contractually, that you do not bad mouth your employer.
“He’s not in a position to throw the network under the bus,” Rosewarne says.
“Equally his own brand has suffered a bit of a battering in recent months. So he cant rock the boat too much.”
Stefanovic might well be the network’s golden boy, but he is still the employee of a television giant. Offering to take a pay cut at the 11th hour would have been unlikely to solve the gender wage gap, meanwhile going rogue and speaking out could be risky for the father-of-three’s career.
If you’re looking for where to place your anger, you need only look past the sparkly grins on your TV screens and peer into the boardrooms, where the cancer of pay inequality thrives.