Today’s painfully awkward moment
An excruciatingly awkward exchange between the stars of Channel 9's struggling Today show hints at fever-pitch tension amid growing speculation the decks are set to be cleared.
The flagship breakfast program has been plagued by disappointing ratings all year despite a revamped format and new hosting line-up, and sank to their lowest-ever point last week.
Persistent rumours suggest current co-hosts Georgie Gardner and Deborah Knight will be dumped in favour of the return of Karl Stefanovic, joined by Allison Langdon, in 2020.
Channel 9 was issuing staunch denials in response to the speculation until this week, when a possibly telling radio silence met queries from journalists.
A bizarre bit of failed banter this morning between Gardner, Knight and news reader Tom Steinfort in the studio, and sports presenter Tony Jones in the field, paints a telling picture.
Jones posed a question to his colleagues about what kind of Australiana food might be included on a menu for French visitors when reporting live from Sandown Racetrack.
The next minute of abrupt replies from Jones and visibly taken aback reactions from the trio in Sydney is hard to watch, to say the least.
Steinfort suggested a classic Four'N Twenty meat pie might be a good menu item, an idea that Jones described as: "So Tom Steinfort-like."
Gardner suggested "a kangaroo burger, maybe", which elicited a seemingly cranky shot from Jones.
"Oh, you'd just go and slaughter a kangaroo, would you, Georgie?" he said.
"Kangaroo meat is readily available across Australia. That's not uncommon." she quickly shot back.
Knight tried to lighten the mood by asking if Jones had taken his cavoodle Archie with him.
"Deb, we're at a racetrack," Jones spat. "Probably not a great idea to bring the dog, I wouldn't have thought."
Knight could be heard muttering: "Oh, you are …"
"I thought it might've been good to have Archie there to cheer you up," she continued.
Steinfort chimed in with, "Yeah, it just …" before Jones cut him off and insisted he was "in a great mood … and just love being here".
Knight wrapped up the entire cringe-worthy cross by apologising.
"OK, well sorry for asking. Never mind. Good on you, TJ."
When Jones disappeared from screen, viewers were met with a clearly dumbfounded panel, who sat in silence for a moment.
"I could see where you were going," Gardner said to Knight. "Never mind."
Critics of Today could argue that this 'banter' is everything that's wrong with the flailing format - hosts who lack chemistry and, in the case of Jones and co, perhaps don't like each other very much.
This isn't the first time there's been a clash between the breakfast show's sports man and other members of the team.
In January, as the show was kicking off with its brand-new look, live from the Australian Open in Melbourne, viewers bristled at another tense exchange.
"I love walking around and hearing all the different accents," Jones said. "So many people come from so many different parts of the world. It's like our own little Europe for two weeks."
Steinfort cut in, chuckling, to say: "There's a fair few people from Asia as well here."
After an extended silence, Jones fired back: "OK, there's some Asians here as well, Tom."
Today finds itself clinging to a rapidly dwindling audience, many of whom have fled to rival Sunrise on Channel 7 and News Breakfast on ABC.
For a show whose catchcry has long been "I wake up with Today", it seems not many Australians are keen to spend the morning watching such bitter banter.