Deb ‘not first choice’ for Today gig
Up until a few days ago, broadcaster Deborah Knight had been always the bridesmaid and never the bride, missing out on prime jobs at Channel 9's breakfast show twice before.
But finally, the respected journalist was tapped on Saturday to replace Karl Stefanovic as co-host of the Today show, joining Georgie Gardner at the desk from next Monday.
However, news.com.au can now reveal that Knight was not the first choice for network executives, who had someone else in mind.
"Brenton Ragless was meant to get the gig," a senior television source said. "But he knocked it back for family reasons so Nine had to go back to the drawing board."
Ragless, an Adelaide newsreader, was tipped to be the favourite to step in after Stefanovic was sensationally dumped from his job late last month.
But when he declined the opportunity, Channel 9 bosses turned to second choice Knight, news.com.au has been told.
It's not the first time she has played second fiddle to others, having previously been a frontrunner for two major positions at Today before ultimately being overlooked.
'SHE WAS DEVASTATED'
When Sylvia Jeffreys was appointed newsreader at the breakfast show in mid-2014, it was at the expense of a "devastated" Knight, news.com.au can reveal.
The coveted role became available when Gardner decided to move on and Knight was certain it was hers, it's understood.
But she was overlooked in favour of Jeffreys, who went on to date and eventually marry former foreign correspondent Peter Stefanovic.
A former employee who was present the day after her appointment was confirmed recalled Knight storming in to the production office and confronting then-executive producer Mark Calvert.
"Mark's office was all glass and you could clearly see what was going on," the source said. "They had quite an animated discussion. Everyone could see she was devastated to (miss out on) the job."
Another network insider corroborated the story and said Knight "thought the gig was in the bag for her".
"The Sylvia one hurt the most for Deb," the source said. "She loves SJ but it hurt. But Deb doesn't dwell on things - she was bummed but then (she) moved on."
Executives considered her a good fit but also had their eye on Gardner, who they believed could mesh well with Stefanovic.
"She was happy to be considered, of course, but Deb was also reluctant," one source said.
She was at Weekend Today at the time and the flexibility suited her, but would have accepted the weekday co-host gig if it was offered.
"She has three little kids … I don't think Deb wanted the Lisa job at the time. She was in a good place on weekends. And maybe she didn't want to do the gig with Karl, but that's a hunch."
In the end, Gardner came up trumps and joined the desk beside Stefanovic.
THIRD TIME'S A CHARM
Not long after Wilkinson's departure, Stefanovic's downfall from the small screen's golden boy to a pariah among viewers, particularly women, began.
The breakfast show veteran, who spent 14 years at Today, endured some 18 months of negative publicity surrounding his personal life after splitting from wife Cassandra Thorburn and hooking up with new squeeze Jasmine Yarbrough.
That distraction was blamed in large part of an exodus of viewers and efforts to rehabilitate his image failed.
While on his honeymoon in the United States, just days after tying the knot with Yarbrough in a lavish Mexican ceremony, Stefanovic was let loose by new Today executive producer Steve Burling.
"Nine and Karl Stefanovic have agreed it is time for him to step off the Today show," a statement read on December 19.
The hunt for a replacement began alongside a clear-out of hosts, with Jeffreys moving on, replaced by journalist Tom Steinfort, sports presenter Tim Gilbert exiting in favour of Tony Jones, and entertainment correspondent Richard "Dickie" Wilkins taking half a step back to usher in Brooke Boney.
From the beginning, Burling's choice to fill Stefanovic's boots was Ragless, it's understood.
"It was meant to be Brenton," the source said. "He was filling in (for Stefanovic) and made an impression. I think he wanted it too."
But it's understood Ragless eventually declined the offer, considering the move of his young family from Adelaide to Sydney to be too arduous a task.
"It's been said the best thing you can give your children are roots (and) wings," Ragless wrote in a message on Twitter just after Knight's appointment was announced.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to have filled in (at the Today show and) look forward to still being involved from time-to-time."
He went on to say that he was "thrilled" to be home with family, friends and his community and congratulated "the dynamic new line-up" at Today.
"I am humbled by the experience and it's an honour to have been considered."
HIGH HOPES FOR KNIGHT
Darren Wick, Channel 9's director of news and current affairs, said on Saturday that Knight was a great choice for the role.
Wick described her as "hands-down one of the best interviewers in the country" and an "incredibly hard-worker".
The network insider who spoke to news.com.au on the condition of anonymity said Knight was going to "kick arse in the this new job".
"She has what Karl had - an ability to do hard news one moment then cartwheeling the next. I think the timing is right for her now. All the planets have aligned."
It's hoped the new-look panel, along with a to-be-announced format rejig, will lure viewers back from rival Channel 7's hit Sunrise program.
Burling has promised Today will look and feel different and it's understood there will be more of a focus on news coverage - Channel 9's strength over rival Channel 7.
"Today viewers expect our reporters to deliver breaking news from overnight and early morning - but our team will also set the daily agenda; unique stories, exclusive interviews and content that will have people talking throughout the day," he said on Saturday.
"These are serious journalists but also fun personalities (and) Australia will love waking up with them in 2019."
Channel 9 declined to comment for this story.
It's understood Knight and Gardner will not be giving interviews this week ahead of Monday's relaunch, and Burling is also unavailable for interviews.