How Sarah Abo landed one of the biggest hosting roles on Australian TV – Sydney Morning Herald

How Sarah Abo landed one of the biggest hosting roles on Australian TV – Sydney Morning Herald

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This time last year, 60 Minutes reporter Sarah Abo was, for the first time, filling in as a guest host on the Today show. While nervous about the new challenge, knowing that three and a half hours of live TV five days a week from 5.30am wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, she remembers that, “from day one, it felt really comfortable”. Because she likes working collaboratively and is an experienced media performer with a solid history at three networks, she credits that sense of ease to “an incredible team, so you never feel like you’re on your own”. And, she adds, “That’s also what I loved about 60 Minutes; that sense of collaboration, of everyone having the same goal.”
Abo, 37, recalls that her friends told her that they knew she was relaxed in the Today role when they heard the full-throated cascade that is “the Sarah laugh”. Darren Wick, director of news and current affairs at Nine (the owner of this masthead), also recognised that the summer stand-in seemed at home on the set. “She was warm, engaging, curious and fun,” he says, “everything that Aussies want in breakfast television presenters. It’s a difficult and nuanced program to host, but it was obvious that Sarah had a natural flair for it.”
According to her boss, Sarah Abo is “warm, engaging, curious and fun …everything that Aussies want in breakfast television presenters.”Credit:Simon Schluter
Abo guest-hosted for about eight weeks through 2022, once arriving late because she’d slept through her alarm (actually three alarms, apparently). That gave co-host Karl Stefanovic and the producers a whole lot of fun setting up a segment in which A Current Affair’s news hound Steve Marshall, ambushed her in the car park, shoved a microphone in her face and asked her to explain her late arrival. A fun time was had by all, except perhaps Abo, who’s unlikely to sleep quite as soundly at 3.30am on a work day again.
Given her success last year, it came as no great surprise after Today’s co-host since 2020, Allison Langdon, was announced as Tracy Grimshaw’s replacement on ACA that Abo would move into the chair that Langdon was vacating. It seemed a predictable passing of the baton, although Wick says that the appointment was no laydown misere: “It’s one of only a handful of major hosting roles in Australian television,” he notes. “It was highly sought after and we had many talented journalists internally at Nine and externally whom we spoke with about the role.”
Wick also says that long-time anchor Stefanovic was “heavily involved” in the selection process. “The two main hosts have to gel,” says Wick. “Their chemistry has to be authentic and they have to respect and like each other. Karl has a unique insight into what it takes to make the team succeed. He knows what type of personality will bring out the best in him and the team around them.”
Sarah Abo moderating the “shouty” leaders’ debate between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese in 2022.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
When Abo’s appointment was announced on Today, Langdon offered some advice to her replacement about her new screen partner: “He will annoy you, but he’ll have your back, he’ll look after you … just call me for a counselling session about ‘Oh, what did he do now?’” Both women appear to treat Stefanovic like a cheeky brother, with affection and respect, but are also prepared to give as good as they get. And Abo notes that seeing him work from close quarters was like watching a masterclass: “He’s an incredible broadcaster. You don’t survive in the industry for that long if you’re not good at it. He really is a powerhouse: he brings that energy every single day. He keeps you on your toes, but you’ve got to keep him on his toes as well, and he loves that.”
Ensuring that the pair works well together is critical as Today operates in one of the most closely watched and fiercely contested arenas on free TV. The breakfast shows are big revenue raisers for commercial networks and winning the ratings brings prestige and bragging rights. The zone attracts intense scrutiny, particularly of the female anchors. As we’re now famously aware, Stefanovic wore the same blue suit for a year and no one noticed, but if the woman sitting beside him turned up in the same outfit twice, social media would quickly buzz.
Described by Abo as “equal parts funny, equal parts journalism”, the breakfast shows bounce between news reports, weather, entertainment and lifestyle segments, and their hosts become familiar companions as viewers go about their morning routines. She has no problem with a format that requires adaptability and flexibility, where an interview with the prime minister or a live report from a flooded town might be followed by segment on baking scones, or a chat about her house-cleaning habits (she’d rather iron than vacuum). She welcomes the variety: “It’s like the flavour of life. You don’t want to be serious all the time, you don’t want to be frivolous all the time”.
And she’s relished that range since her early days as a reporter for Ten’s news. A Monash University arts and journalism graduate, Abo majored in French, did honours in journalism and describes herself as “conversational”, rather than fluent, in French and Arabic. A work-experience position at Ten News led to a production assistant job, then a reporting role in Adelaide. She moved back to Ten’s newsroom in her hometown of Melbourne before joining SBS in 2013. There she presented and reported for World News, reported for Dateline and guest hosted Insight, before moving to 60 Minutes in 2019. Along the way, she’s reported on a range of stories, from the World Cup in Brazil to the Climate Conference in Paris, the US elections, the Syrian refugee crisis and the work of Australian troops in Afghanistan. Her roll call of interviewees includes Greta Thunberg, Kiss, Tony Blair, Amy Shark and Dani Laidley. Last year she hosted the leadership debate in the lead-up to the federal election.
But beyond the experience evident on her CV, Abo has qualities that make her a natural TV talent and a good fit for her new job. In addition to that ready laugh, she has a warmth that invites people to respond to her readily.
She thrived in the newsroom environment where she couldn’t predict what stories she might be assigned to cover. “I love the fact that every day gives me something different and there’s a new challenge,” she observes. “I get to meet new people and I find that exhilarating and energising. I love hearing their stories because you learn so much, you never stop learning. It’s a privilege and an honour to be able to meet people and for them to feel as though they can talk to you.”
Her curiosity and energy will serve her well on Today, as will a background that has taught her the value of community and the importance of embracing opportunities.
The eldest of three girls, Abo’s parents migrated from Syria when she was four and their transition to life in a new land was aided by a supportive local community of Syrian expatriates. Abo speaks with admiration of the courage of her parents who crossed the world seeking a different life, but she also stresses that theirs isn’t a unique story in a country built on migration: “It’s a story shared by so many other families in Australia,” she says.
Given her credentials, as Abo takes her permanent place on Today, it’s hard to think of anyone better prepared for the position. Looking back on her time in news and current affairs and looking ahead as she prepares to relocate from Melbourne to Sydney with her husband, she says that her chosen career “does take a certain strength and resilience”, adding: “No doubt that will be tested in a way that I’m not prepared for, or maybe not used to, although I’ve had a taste of it. There’s going to be good and bad. That’s just the way it is.”
Today returns to Nine, Monday, January 16 at 5.30am.
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