Karl ‘too much of a celeb’ to be on air

There was a time when it was hard to turn on Channel 9 and not see Karl Stefanovic's face beaming back at you.

But this year viewers are more likely to see Stefanovic in the flesh than on TV screens, with the Nine personality now more frequently spotted walking his German Shepherd puppy Chance The Yapper in the Sydney suburb of Mosman with new wife Jasmine Yarbrough.

The Gold Logie winner was front and centre of the network's news coverage for more than a decade, whether he was on Today alongside Lisa Wilkinson, filling in for Tracey Grimshaw as host of A Current Affair or filing special reports for 60 Minutes.

Karl and Jasmine last month. Picture: Matrix
Karl and Jasmine last month. Picture: Matrix

But since his spectacular fall from Nine's good graces last December, the network's highest paid star has been hard to find - and Stefanovic's celebrity status is to blame.

Once Nine's go-to field reporter for world events such as the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks or the 2016 US election, Stefanovic was noticeably absent from the network's coverage of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

On the day of the New Zealand terror attack, Stefanovic was instead pictured at lunch at up-market Sydney restaurant Aria alongside his manager Sharon Finnigan.

Stefanovic was also snubbed from Nine's coverage of the NSW state election, with his Today replacement Deborah Knight taking the reins instead alongside political editors Chris O'Keefe and Chris Uhlmann.

Nine has also confirmed Stefanovic will not be a part of its federal election coverage later this year.

Mediaweek editor James Manning said Stefanovic's absence from Nine's Christchurch coverage wasn't a mistake, but a smart move by the network to not to let the high profile star be centre stage.

"Nine News seem to have decided some time ago that Karl wasn't required on news stories at that moment," he told news.com.au.

"He was becoming the story instead of what he could be reporting on if they sent him out in the field.

"When he turns up somewhere it's like a celebrity arriving, it's not like a reporter."

Karl Stefanovic won praise in the past for his tough questioning of Australia’s leaders. Picture: Supplied
Karl Stefanovic won praise in the past for his tough questioning of Australia’s leaders. Picture: Supplied

While Mr Manning wasn't surprised by Stefanovic's omission from Nine's NSW election coverage, his absence from the May federal election line-up is telling.

"That's perhaps a little more surprising, but then again it's partly as I said, he's become news himself … sitting on the Nine panel people would be tempted to ask him questions," Mr Manning said.

TV Tonight's David Knox believes Stefanovic's absence from recent news events is about giving audiences a break before he returns later this year.

"Karl is one of the best in the biz when there is breaking news, skilled in the art of rolling coverage whether from Paris attacks or weather disasters in Australia," he told news.com.au.

"But with no show on air at the moment, I wasn't too surprised he was absent during NZ events. The more telling decision was in Nine opting for others hosts for its NSW Election coverage.

"With This Time Next Year not returning until late 2019 it's pretty clear the network is looking to insert a lot of space before his return."

Stefanovic was axed from his role as Today host following bad publicity over his extravagant Mexican wedding to Jasmine Yarbrough.

His nuptials to the glamorous shoe designer took place just over two years after Stefanovic left his wife of more than two decades, Cassandra Thorburn, a move that did not sit well with viewers.

Karl Stefanovic was on the ground reporting on the Paris terror attacks in 2015
Karl Stefanovic was on the ground reporting on the Paris terror attacks in 2015

Also shown the door during Channel Nine's 'bloodbath' was Stefanovic's Weekend Today show host brother Peter who left the network after 15 years and Today sports reporter Tim Gilbert.

Today entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins was moved to Today Extra and Today newsreader Sylvia Jeffreys, who is married to Peter Stefanovic, was given a Nine News reporter role.

Despite being paid a reported $2 million a year salary and a contract with Nine in place until the end of 2020, Karl Stefanovic's only confirmed project for 2019 is This Time Next Year.

Stefanovic spent six days filming episodes of the show at Sydney's Fox Studios in late February, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The makeover show sees Stefanovic interview ordinary Australians about their goals as they set them and a second time 12 months later.

Karl Stefanovic’s only confirmed project is This Time Next Year
Karl Stefanovic’s only confirmed project is This Time Next Year

The lighter This Time Next Year couldn't be more different from the serious journalism Stefanovic is known to excel at.

An industry executive previously told news.com.au a return to structured news - offered by Channel 7 in 2015 but ultimately turned down by Stefanovic - could have saved him from the turmoil that soon followed.

"It would've been helpful if he was in a tighter format because you wouldn't have seen Karl being Karl - he would've been 'produced Karl'. He can be very slick. He's a good interviewer. In breakfast TV, there's no hiding. It's a real person. And when the real person isn't at his best, it's bad."

But while Stefanovic may be under-utilised by Nine at the moment he seems to be revelling in his lower profile.

Recent photos of Stefanovic show a happier side, with the journalist looking slimmer and more relaxed while out and about with Yarbrough.

The Australian reported this week that he also pulled out of a planned "tell-all" interview with 9 Honey after the website sent through a list of questions about his nuptials and Yarbrough's wedding dress.

So perhaps the bigger question is whether Stefanovic is in any rush to return to Nine's spotlight at all.