Boys’ club label for Channel Nine doesn’t quite add up

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Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson: "A working relationship, that

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 Lisa Wilkinson’s agent Nick Fordham was doing his best to dodge awkward questions about his star talent having her mega-buck contract with Channel Nine terminated before his very eyes last Monday afternoon, but he was keen to get one message out above all others: “It was never just about the money.”

Well, you could have fooled the rest of us, with the central focus of debate about Lisa Wilkinson being how much money she was actually worth.


Lisa Wilkinson dumps Nine for Ten

The Today host has made a shock departure from the popular breakfast show to move to Ten Network’s The Project.

Even Channel Nine chief executive Hugh Marks took the extraordinary position of publicly revealing Wilkinson had asked for a whopping $2.3 million, $500,000 above what Nine had offered her after an exhausting six months of negotiations, a deal which would have seen her “package” increase by nearly a million dollars.

While Fordham and Wilkinson may see it differently, in the world of commercial television, it is ALWAYS about the money.

For the past week there have been howls of protest, claiming gender pay disparity. Critics have labelled Channel Nine a “boys club”, an outfit happy to pay $2 million a year for Karl Stefanovic, while his wingwoman was only earning half that.

But the “Boys Club” label doesn’t quite fit on Channel Nine. On Today Extra, the show which immediately follows Today, Sonia Kruger is paid substantially more than her co-host David Campbell, A Current Affair host Tracy Grimshaw is one of the best paid presenters in the country while the highest-paid female news reporter in Australia is Liz Hayes on 60 Minutes.

But what people are forgetting is that “market value” in television is a completely fluid, mercurial thing, something which changes with the ebbs and flows of popularity, which in itself is one of the mysterious black arts very few television executives ever truly master.

Stefanovic was only given his huge salary after he was courted by rival Channel Seven.

Nine was forced to pay him the $2 million rather than face the prospect of losing one of its biggest names to a network with enough money to capitalise on such a scalp.

That was 18 months ago, and it would be interesting to gauge what Stefanovic’s value is now, given the tsunami of negative press that has followed him since he walked out on his wife of 21 years, Cassandra Thorburn, the mother of his three children, and launched himself into the social pages with much younger, former model, girlfriend Jasmine Yarbrough on his arm.

There havebeen plenty of comments suggesting Stefanovic should have taken a pay cut to even up Wilkinson’s salary.

As one of Today’s staffers quietly told PS this week: “Fat chance. We don’t go around talking about how much we’re earning, but we all read about it. Karl and Lisa did well to establish a working relationship, but that’s all it was.”

Indeed 18 months is a long time in television and Stefanovic’s popularity may well have recovered in a year and a half’s time when his contract is up again.

Meanwhile Wilkinson’s new home, Channel Ten, is a financially beleaguered operator currently in administration which has sustained ruthless staff sackings and budget slashings over recent months.

It is not in the same financial zone as Channel Seven.

Ten has not revealed how much it is paying Wilkinson, but insiders argue it would be highly unlikely she would be getting anywhere near the $2 million being bandied about.

“It will be a test of the network’s ethics when it comes to how they treat some of their longest-serving team members,” noted one Ten personality. “The Ten bank is empty”.

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