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 was 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 rumors suggest current co-hosts Georgie Gardner and Deborah Knight will be dumped in favor 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 to possibly telling radio silence queries from journalists.
In the study, Gardner, Knight and news reader, in the study, will present Tony Jones in the field, paints a telling picture.
Jones posed a question to his colleagues about what kind of Australian food might be included on a menu for French visitors when reporting live from Sandown Racetrack.
The next minute of abrupt replies from the visibly taken reactions from the trio in Sydney is to say the least.
Steinfort suggested a classic Four 'N
Gardner suggested "a kangaroo burger, maybe", which elicited a seemingly cranky shot from Jones.
"Oh, you just go and slaughter 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 have 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 is not the first time there was a clash between the breakfast show and other members of the team.
In January, viewers bristled at another tense exchange live from the Australian Open, as the show was kicking off with its brand-new look.
"I love walking around and hearing all the different accents," Jones said. “I know many people like 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 are few fair people from Asia as well here."
After an extended silence, Jones fired back: "OK, there is some Asians here as well, Tom."
Today finds itself clinging to a rapidly increasing 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.