And no wonder, with reports she was about to leave Nine for a $2-million-a-year gig hosting a revamped Big Brother at Seven, where her partner Craig McPherson is news director.
But the smiles of all those sitting on the desk on Thursday morning masked an inevitable reality: the TV axeman was coming, and blood would soon be spilled.
Breakfast television advertising is collectively worth around $120 million across Today and arch rival Seven’s Sunrise. While the shows traditionally had a 50:50 split, Today’s ratings erosion ultimately threatened its profitability.
The alarm bells were not just sounding, they were deafening as the show hit a new record-low a week ago: 155,000 metropolitan viewers.
PS was told Gardner was unlikely to see out the next week on the show before “going on gardening leave”.
Gardner’s imminent departure follows talk of a long-running feud with her co-host Deborah Knight, a relationship that PS was informed by several insiders had even affected their daily appointments in the make-up chair before going on air.
“If one got in there before the other, all hell broke loose. They’ve only just started talking to each other off camera in the last four weeks,” an insider revealed to PS this week on the strictest condition of anonymity.
Gardner publicly rubbished reports the pair did not get along, while Knight has conceded they are “very different women”.
But the toll of 2019 has been worn most heavily by Gardner, who appeared somewhat flummoxed by the constant scrutiny and poor ratings when PS crossed paths with her just two months ago at Rose Bay’s Catalina. She was with Richard Wilkins, but there was no sign of Knight.
“Georgie takes all the speculation really personally, she does not have the thick hide that Deborah has shown,” their colleague revealed. “Personally, I think Georgie will be somewhat relieved to go.”
After a year on the desk, Today’s newsreader Tom Steinfort looks set to return to his old 60 Minutes stomping ground, and while Gardner and Knight will remain at Nine, it is not clear what their future roles will be, though Kruger’s departure creates at least one opening.
Management are more preoccupied with Today’s next chapter, with newly rehabilitated $3-million-a-year man Karl Stefanovic, and new co-host Allison Langdon.
The past year was always going to be an experimental one for Today, with a newly installed executive producer in Steve Burling.
At the Logies in April it was clear Stefanovic was back in favour, being warmly hugged by Nine CEO Hugh Marks and making a highly personal speech about his own months of bad press and personal turmoil, which ultimately lost him his plum gig.
But Stefanovic’s departure was just part of a Romanov-style mass culling at the end of 2018 that also resulted in his sister-in-law Sylvia Jeffreys and brother Peter Stefanovic being punted from Today, along with long-time sports host Tim Gilbert.
Even Wilkins, the network’s showbiz stalwart, was forced into an awkward job-share arrangement with Today’s bright new thing, former Triple J personality Brooke Boney.
But in the end, it just didn’t add up to ratings for Today. The once-dominant show has seen its national audience drop by 18 per cent in 2019 to 290,000 compared to last year, while Sunrise has increased its national audience by 1.4 per cent to 461,000.
That’s a gap of 171,000 viewers between the shows that were neck-and-neck in 2017: in other words, an unmitigated commercial disaster for Nine, which is the owner of this masthead.
Sun rises on ‘sexy’ new couple
It wasn’t just on the set of Today where things were awkward in breakfast TV land.
As PS revealed last week, Sunrise host Samantha Armytage and her new boyfriend, Bowral hobby farmer Richard Lavender who originally hails from Quirindi, came out of their self-imposed media exile on Thursday – and on horseback. The newish lovebirds’ top secret photo shoot was for Who magazine’s somewhat hilarious “sexiest people” issue.
Talk about cringe.
Armytage told the magazine she met Lavender around Easter through a mutual friend, but that was only half the story.
PS was there to see it all unfold.
It was actually at Skye Leckie‘s mammoth champagne-fuelled 60th birthday party in April.
Armytage had arrived with her former boyfriend, aviation executive Paul O’Brien, at the party though the pair were spotted having a tense moment and he was later nowhere to be seen.
Armytage had consoled herself at the espresso martini station as the party got into the witching hour, and it was there her eyes met Lavender’s. Or at least that’s how PS remembers it.
It was Armytage’s colleague Mark Beretta who had introduced Armytage to her former boyfriend of a year, O’Brien. The break-up has not dented their mateship with Beretta and O’Brien spotted at Flemington on Tuesday for the Melbourne Cup, which may explain his somewhat quizzical expression as Armytage gushed about her new beau on Sunrise.
Eight is enough for King Kyle
He has just inked a $50 million deal to become Australia’s best-paid radio personality, so it’s no wonder Kyle Sandilands‘ friends say he is “very worried” about what the future holds after his break-up with former girlfriend Imogen Anthony.
“He’s just waiting for her to go ballistic,” one of them told PS this week.
But given how much the once divorced 48-year-old spends on his lavish, jet-set lifestyle and how few tangible assets he actually owns, any property settlement he reaches with Anthony, with whom he has been in a defacto relationship for eight years, is certain to cause considerable pain to Sandilands’ wallet.
Under NSW law, a couple is considered defacto if they have been living together as a couple for a minimum of two years, entitling the parties to a 50 per cent claim of assets, which could change depending on circumstances, such as if there are children.
While 28-year-old Anthony has no children, she has collected a menagerie of animals during her relationship with Sandilands.
Sandilands bought a farm in the Southern Highlands for $3 million nearly two years ago, where the former couple kept their brood of animals. However for most of their relationship they have rented a series of luxury mansions across Sydney.
Sandilands has had various business ventures, from a coconut water company to nightclubs, but little is known about how financially successful they have been, while his “communications director” Tegan Kynaston has been spending considerable time with her boss in recent weeks, both in Sydney and Los Angeles.
Two weeks ago Sandilands’ manager Bruno Bouchet refused to be drawn on rumours the pair had reached Splitsville.
Sandilands took matters into his own hands on his radio show, telling his listeners on Tuesday: “We haven’t been with each other for quite a few months now. Unfortunately it’s run its course.” Later Sandilands added he was “single”.
Mag mergers as rival worlds collide
It’s been described to PS as like a cross between The Hunger Games and Game Of Thrones, as Germany’s Bauer Media prepares to swallow up its former rival Pacific Magazines, and spit out those bits it has no appetite for.
A big question mark hangs over the head of former New Idea queen Louisa Hatfield, who was only promoted in February to become Pacific’s rather grandly-titled group content and brand director.
Despite her senior post, Hatfield had been kept in the dark about the Bauer takeover, adamantly telling people it was “all a Bauer beat-up” just days before the news became official.
Her rival at Bauer, Woman’s Day editor-in-chief Fiona Connolly is understood to be sizing up the new dynasty she will soon be presiding over, with New Idea, That’s Life and Who being brought into the fold with WD, The Australian Women’s Weekly, Take 5, NW, OK! and TV Week.
Senior editors at Pacific have also quietly told PS they are not expecting to learn their fate until the end of this month, and with so many former foes about to become friends, it remains to be seen how the crew running Bauer’s Harper’s Bazaar and Elle will like becoming bedfellows with Marie Claire and InStyle.
Obeid to return to family fold
Six weeks and counting. That was the message coming from the family of convicted former NSW Labor parliamentarian Eddie Obeid this week as they prepare for his release from prison.
Obeid’s daughter Rebecca Joumma posted on social media saying: “Only six more weeks … what a life you have lived. What an incredible story to be told. The History, The strugle (sic), The Triumph, The Betrayal and now The incredible courage. Such an incredible human being … such an incredible journey”.
She included an old photo of the Obeid family along with a smiley-faced emoji.
Cup runneth over no more
Horse racing protesters may have had little impact on the shenanigans going on inside Flemington’s famed Birdcage this year, but for PS the social event of the year is under threat from far more insidious forces: corporate banality.
As a constant stream of “social media” influencers were paraded about the marquees under the guise of “celebrities”, PS lamented the days when the event was a smorgasbord of truly colourful characters – from Liza Minnelli and Joan Collins to Nicole Kidman and Snoop Dogg.
There were glimmers of good stories, such as Anthony Pratt in close proximity to his half-sister, Paula Pratt, who was spending a day at the races with her mother Shari-Lea Hitchcock, the infamous mistress of the late cardboard king Richard Pratt.
And yes, Gina Rinehart appeared to be dressed as the Great Barrier Reef on Cup Day, but even the billionaire and her jaunty bonnet had trouble dealing with the 20-something nobodies and former footballers’ wives in the marquees, who appeared more involved in their smartphones and free champagne than the glamour of the event around them.
However, it was interesting to spot model Jordan Barrett being pulled over by the traffic police on Thursday on Oxford Street in his loaned Lexus, no doubt part of his deal to pose and pout in the car maker’s marquee this year, which oddly had more publicists inside than actual VIPs.
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.