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Today Show Hosts 'In Shock' Over Lisa Wilkinson's Abrupt Departure

Lisa Wilkinson will be moving to Network Ten's The Project.

17/10/2017 10:51 AM AEDT | Updated 17/10/2017 11:59 AM AEDT

'Today' show hosts have paid tribute to Lisa Wilkinson, who has left for a rival network after 10 years with the breakfast program, as co-host Karl Stefanovic admitted her shock departure was a "surprise to us all".

Wilkinson announced her abrupt departure on Monday night, after a long-running dispute over pay parity with Channel Nine.

Nine reportedly refused to match her salary with co-host Karl Stefanovic.

According to News Corp, Wilkinson was paid $1.1 million for hosting the flagship program -- just over half co-host Karl Stefanovic's $2 million -- despite doing exactly the same job.

Shortly after the announcement, Wilkinson flagged a new role at Network Ten's The Project.

Speaking from the open window of her Audi convertible on Tuesday morning on the way to visit her 89-year-old mother, Wilkinson told reporters "I'm more than OK, I'm great".

"I've always been a very hard worker, and I've always been very proud of my work and I've loved every single job I've ever had," she told the Daily Telegraph.

"I feel very privileged with all the opportunities I've been afforded over the years."

But Wilkinson was tight-lipped over the pay dispute with Nine, which reportedly offered her $1.8 million to prevent her departure.

"I don't have anything to say at this stage," she said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has commended the TV personality for "sending a very strong message" to the community about gender pay parity, the ABC reports.

Berejiklian, who replaced Mike Baird as Premier last year, said that if the switch was about equal pay then "good on her".

"That would be akin to me getting a pay cut because my predecessors weren't female.

"I completely appreciate her position if that was her reason and congratulate her for taking that stance."

Weekend Today host Deb Knight was called in as a last-minute replacement for Wilkinson on Tuesday morning.

Addressing his long-running co-host's absence on the morning program, Stefanovic paid tribute to her "beauty", "intelligence", and "wicked sense of humour".

"For 10 years, she handled the brutal hours with grace... For whatever reason she won't be doing that anymore," he told viewers.

"It is safe to say we are all a little shocked and it will take time to sink in.

Scott Barbour via Getty Images
Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson have co-hosted the Today show for a decade.

"So for now this: Thank you. Thank you for the laughs, the sage advice, the calmness, oh, the calmness. And thank you for all of your support. Thank you for being a great colleague. Thanks for being a great interviewer. Thanks for being a great dancer and a truly, truly terrible singer.

"Thanks for being a great mum -- I know you value that more than anything else -- and thank you for being a great friend.

"The rest I will leave for when I see you but whatever you do, and wherever you go, you do so having made your mark on this show and on this man."

Fellow host Sylvia Jeffreys remarked upon Wilkinson's role as a strong female icon for young girls and women.

"Seeing is believing for young girls and young women and what they see in Lisa is a strong, influential, fun and compassionate woman at the very, very top of her game," she told viewers.

"It has been an enormous, a tremendous privilege to share a part of Lisa's Today show experience and it is a tremendous privilege to share a beautiful friendship with her and I know that continues for a very long time to come."

The hosts wished Wilkinson a good sleep-in after a decade of 3:30am wake ups, and jokingly hoped that husband Peter FitzSimons was preparing her breakfast.

Emerging from their home on Sydney's north shore on Tuesday morning at 7:45am, FitzSimons told reporters that Wilkinson was recovering after an "extraordinary day".

"She's having a lovely sleep-in after an extraordinary day, thank you. The best sleep in 10 years," the Fairfax columnist said.

Through a window, a television tuned into the Today program could be seen playing in a family room, according to The Advertiser.

Nine expressed expressing its disappointment over Wilkinson's departure in a statement released on Monday evening, amid reports the network offered her $1.8m to stall her exit.

"Nine today confirmed we have been unable to meet the expectation of Lisa Wilkinson and her manager on a contract renewal for a further period," the statement reads.

"Nine will be going in another direction and will be considering our options in the coming weeks and months."

Within 45 minutes of announcing her departure from Channel Nine, Wilkinson released a statement announcing her move to a senior hosting role with the Ten Network's The Project.

Editorial note: Lisa Wilkinson is Editor at Large of HuffPost Australia.

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