Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic: The scandal that tore the Today show apart

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For 10 long years, Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic were the darlings of breakfast TV being the co-hosts of Channel 9's premiere morning show Today.

Not only were they on-air colleagues, but they seemed to be good friends away from the cameras as well. Lisa and her husband Peter FitzSimons and Karl and wife Cassandra Thorburn used to socialise together  

Presenters Lisa Wilkinson, Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon on the Today show in 2007
Presenters Lisa Wilkinson, Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon celebrate the Today Show 25th birthday outside the Sydney Opera House in 2007. Photo: Getty Images

However, all that changed in 2017 when Lisa unexpectedly and abruptly left her job at Channel 9. 

"I have some news," Lisa said on Twitter on October 16, 2017, "I’m sad to say that today was my last day on @thetodayshow."

And it seemed the news caught Karl off-guard too. "For 10 years, she handled the brutal hours with grace, beauty and intelligence and a wicked sense of humour," he said on air of his cohost's departure. "For whatever reason, she won't be doing that anymore."

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Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic in 2007
Today show co-hosts Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson. Photo: Getty Images
Lisa Wilkinson and Peter FitzSimons in 2017
Lisa Wilkinson and husband Peter FitzSimons. Photo: WireImage

Less than a fortnight before her shock resignation, Lisa and hubby Peter had celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a vow renewal ceremony and all their nearest and dearest were there. Her Today show colleagues were there of course – Sylvia Jefferies and her husband Peter Stefanovic (Karl's brother), and entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins were seen enjoying the festivities.

Noticeably absent was Karl. While the official statement was that he was overseas on annual leave, some speculated it was his shock spilt from his first wife Cassandra and his relationship with Jasmine Yarbrough that caused the rift. However, days later with Lisa pulling the plug with Nine, it seemed that things went deeper.

Lisa, 61, has come out this week, ahead of the release of her explosive autobiography, It Wasn't Meant To Be Like This, to say she was hurt at how she was seen as expendable and worth so much less than Karl by her former employer. 

Speaking to The Sunday Project's Hamish Macdonald she said: "I felt stupid and humiliated and betrayed... and pretty pathetic."

Karl Stefanovic and his ex-wife Cassandra Thorburn  in 2011
Karl with his first wife Cassandra Thorburn. Photo: Getty Images

Lisa had been negotiating a new contract with the network at the time and trying to get a better financial deal from them. 

"I think the idea was to humiliate me because I'd been in negotiations to try and close the gender pay gap," she revealed, hinting that the gap was quite significant.

"Doesn't get much bigger than the gap that I experienced. I was very expendable. I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to the audience. I was told, 'That's it'."

At the time Karl was reportedly earning $2million a year with a bonus if ratings were a hit, that would take his salary to $3million according to The Australian at the time.

While Nine was only reportedly willing to raise Lisa's yearly salary from $1.1million to $1.8million, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Despite telling Ahn Do on Ahn's Brush With Fame that: "I can honestly say right up until our very last show together, we could still make each other laugh, we could still challenge each other, we could still disagree," the end of the show seemed to signal the end of their friendship.

When Karl married Jasmine in Mexico in 2018, Lisa wasn't there. "I have not been invited," Lisa told Confidential at the time. But added: "I think they've had a couple of rough years. And it'll be nice to get on with the rest of their lives."

Karl Stefanovic & Jasmine Yarbrough in 2018
Karl with second wife Jasmine Yarbrough. Photo: WireImage

When Lisa left Today, she was able to announce pretty quickly afterwards that she would be joining The Project on 10.

But things post Lisa didn't go smoothly for Karl either. His popularity was already taking a hit after leaving Cassandra and finding love again with Jasmine not long after and then, in March 2018, his brother Peter had a speakerphone conversation with Karl in an Uber that lead to both brother's having to leave their jobs.

"[Karl] said [Nine bosses] didn’t know anything... Both the brothers clearly think they are better than what they do and spent a lot of time complaining," the Uber driver told New Idea. "I actually wanted them to end the call. The complaining just went on and on and I needed a drink myself."

In the wake of Ubergate, it was announced in December of 2018 that Peter was leaving Nine for 'new opportunities' while Karl was to leave the show that he'd become most famous for, Today.

Time away from the spotlight had given Karl time to think about what he wanted and to perhaps lose some of the ego that top presenters tend to have due to their mass popularity.

"It’s been about six months since I was on the telly, and I needed to have a rest. Towards the end of last year, I was cooked," Karl said at Channel Nine's Gold Logie recovery brunch. "It had taken its toll, a lot of the attention — all the unwarranted attention I thought, and you can’t control any of that, I’m not going to complain too much about that, but what it meant was that in a work capacity I don’t believe for a second I was at my best. I think I was struggling towards the end of last year."

Lisa Wilkinson on The Sunday Project
Lisa Wilkinson opens up to Hamish Macdonald on The Sunday Project. Photo: Network 10

And while both Lisa and Karl's careers have risen back to the top, where they rightfully belong, some things can not be recovered.

When Hamish Macdonald asked if she still had a friendship with Karl, Lisa replied: "Look, we’re not really in touch," she said, adding that she was hurt by him at the time their Today partnership came to an end.

Who knows, maybe her autobiography and honesty about what happened will lead them to reconnect or perhaps it will create a permanent fracture in their relationship.

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