WE’RE ALL OUT OF LOVE: The moment tide turned on Karl
HE used to be able to get away with almost anything.
From presenting a live breakfast television show while still affected by alcohol consumed at an industry after-party the night before, to wearing the same suit to work every day for a year.
For a long time, it appeared Nine's Today co-host Karl Stefanovic, now 43, could do no wrong.
Stefanovic built his image as a family man with an irreverent humour who could instantly switch to professional newsman when required. He was quick to laugh - sometimes uncontrollably, and often much to the amusement of viewers.
The viewers lapped it up which only saw an increase in frequency of his often on-air antics wrapped in charm.
It was a winning formula that culminated in top accolades and a legion of loyal fans who saw Stefanovic as a cheeky, loveable rogue. They liked watching him push the boundaries and were forgiving - sometimes congratulatory - when he took things further than others.
In 2009, he presented Today while appearing to still be intoxicated after attending the Logies after-party the night before. Stefanovic slurred, laughed and joked his way through the four hour program, much to the delight of fans and to the horror of critics. But it was clear which camp had the most members when just two years later, Stefanovic was awarded a gold Logie - the highest honour in Australian television for "best personality", as voted by the public.
His popularity led to his status as highest-paid person on Australian television and cemented his position as the network's golden boy.
He was in particularly good stead with the show's core audience of women when he pulled a stunt in which he wore the same outfit to work every day for a year without a single viewer complaint.
The purpose was to demonstrate that men weren't subjected to the same level of criticisms about their appearance as women after he became fed up with viewers who regularly critiqued co-host Lisa Wilkinson's style. The move won him praise even among some of his harshest critics.
But the tide appears to be turning on the host after more than a decade in one of the TV's top jobs as his personal life plays out in the public arena like a soap opera.
The cracks first started to appear when Stefanovic moved out of the family home in October 2016, separating from his wife of 21 years, Cassandra Thorburn. He took a two-month sabbatical over the summer to deal with the marriage breakdown. The couple formally finalised their divorce in May 2017.
In early 2017 speculation began that he was seeing fashion designer and model Jasmine Yarbrough, 33.
A series of paparazzi photographs soon confirmed that Stefanovic and Yarbrough were an item.
In February 2017, Stefanovic was photographed on-board a private boat lying next to Yarbrough and sipping wine. It looked like a fun day out with friends on Sydney Harbour. But it also marked the start of a nosedive for Stefanovic's public image.
As he headed on holiday with Yarborough at Easter, Thorburn was photographed sombrely moving out of the family home.
In the eyes of many of the mothers who tuned into Today, Stefanovic had moved on and now had a new, younger girlfriend while his wife was left alone - and his popularity started to wane.
Nine stood firm next to their star, the network publicity team brazening it out, putting Stefanovic up for a mea culpa of sorts as This Time Last Year launched. The show rated well with Stefanovic as its host, and it was thought the public was coming to terms with the frontman's relationship with his now-fiance, Yarbrough.
But the Today show took a hit and found itself soundly beaten by Sunrise every single day across the five-city metro ratings figures the first week into Stefanovic's return to work.
The ratings soon steadied but Today certainly didn't have the momentum that had almost seen it knock Sunrise from a decade of dominance as number one breakfast show in 2016. Its ratings remain - at best - sluggish. That's despite a recent panel shake-up.
Late last year, long-term Today co-host Lisa Wilkinson spectacularly departed Nine after a contract dispute.
She wanted to be paid the same amount as Stefanovic, and when Nine wouldn't come to party, she left.
Chief executive Hugh Marks backed Stefanovic, saying he was worth more to the network than Wilkinson. But losing Wilkinson was another blow to Today's stocks whether Nine admitted it or not.
At the time, campaign Edge creative director Dee Madigan, a brand and advertising expert for Gruen and Sky News, told News Corp "it was a mistake" for Nine to break up the double-act of Wilkinson and Stefanovic, who was kept in check often by his co-star.
Georgie Gardner was installed as Stefanovic's new co-host it was a popular public decision.
But on Gardner's first day in the role in January this year, Sunrise won both five-city and national ratings.
The defeat for Nine came off the back of Seven's 14th consecutive year on top of the breakfast battle.
Today has only won one ratings week this year: when Stefanovic was on another week off.
But it hasn't been the only bump in the road for Stefanovic in the first few months of 2018.
The now infamous Uber call - in which he reportedly slammed colleagues and close mate Richard Wilkins earlier this month - has the potential to seriously tarnish his reputation.
The 45-minute speakerphone conversation between Stefanovic and his brother Peter - who was travelling in the Uber car with his wife Sylvia Jeffreys during the late night call - was reportedly recorded by the driver before he relayed the details to a magazine for a reported$50,000.
Rumours of bad blood between Stefanovic and co-host Gardner were fuelled when it was reported he had accused her of being a "wishy-washy fence sitter" and having "no opinions" during the trip.
The Uber conversation saw Karl urge his brother to push for $60,000 story budgets "and not take no for an answer" as Peter voiced his dissatisfaction with his role, colleagues and said his ideas were knocked back and he hated his job.
The brothers described some executives at Nine as people who "didn't know anything and … are out of touch".
The timing was appalling. It came in the same week Stefanovic and Yarbrough held a "commitment ceremony" - another unpopular move with many viewers, who saw it as the latest insult to his ex-wife and kids - in Palm Beach.
While not legally binding, it was held at a private house. Stefanovic told The Sunday Telegraph afterwards: "We are very much in love. We clicked right from the start. It's a commitment ceremony. It was lovely."
But public attitude towards the star appears to have shifted and the overwhelming support and encouragement he once received from so readily from fans has largely been replaced with disapproval. Some critics who have long accused Stefanovic of having an ego that has gone out of check have been more scathing.
"Karl - the man the network built as the man of the people is appearing tone deaf to what the people actually think, or that he doesn't care what they think," one source said.
Entertainment journalist Peter Ford said the problem was "the arrogance here and the unhappiness that comes through that will be a very hard wash".
"Research shows people who watch people on TV want to believe (they) really want to be there and that they're happy and they're grateful for their jobs," he added.
For almost two years, Nine has fiercely protected their star as his private life went into turmoil.
Stefanovic's current contract is worth a reported $2 million a year, with sweeteners of a prime time show, This Time Last Year, and regular 60 Minutes reporting gigs. The contract is believed to be a three-year deal, which would see it end at the end of 2018. But whether or not his once loyal following is prepared to continue to stick by Stefanovic beyond that is anyone's guess.