Channel Seven executives had been plotting for weeks to axe Melissa Doyle from Sunrise before the popular presenter "resigned" on air, sources have told Fairfax Media.
The move is seen as a pre-emptive strike against plans by former Sunrise producer Adam Boland to revamp Channel Ten's morning line-up.
Doyle was reportedly told to take a pay cut, step down from Sunrise and pretend she had been promoted to a news presenting position.
However Seven denies any such claims saying her talents in live reporting were recognised and her "new agreement with the network was done months before the announcement".
Two weeks ago, a tearful Doyle told viewers she had been offered "a great opportunity" and would leave Sunrise – which she has co-hosted for 14 years – "with great sadness".
There is a view within Seven that Doyle is not as popular with audiences as co-host David Koch or her Channel Nine rivals Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson.
Her reported pay cut of $150,000, from a rumoured salary of $700,000, is also believed to be part of a broader push within the network to force its big stars to slash their wages. One presenter is said to have had their pay more than halved.
Seven executives had decided at least several weeks ago to "rejuvenate" Sunrise by replacing Doyle with Weekend Sunrise co-host Samantha Armytage. Doyle is said to have been told of the decision just a fortnight ago – and that she had no say in the matter.
It is believed her new roles include presenting the Seven Afternoon News bulletin at 4.30pm and a new nightly news program, co-hosted with former Today Tonight presenter Matt White, on 7Two.
It is unclear what will happen to current Afternoon News presenter Rebecca Maddern if Doyle takes over the program.
Sources say the network is furious with Doyle for drumming up her own publicity since her departure from Sunrise was announced.
While Sunrise is still the highest-rating breakfast show, Channel Nine's Today has narrowed the gap in recent years, and both shows will be under threat from a new program being developed by television "wonder boy" Boland.
Her reported pay cut of $150,000 is also rumoured to be part of a broader push within the network to force its big stars to slash their salaries.
Having taken Sunrise to the top a decade ago, Boland is credited with re-inventing breakfast television in Australia.
Some in the industry see Seven's removal of Doyle as a knee-jerk reaction to Boland's forthcoming show, claiming a "steady as she goes" approach is what Sunrise needs.
Either way, rumours of Doyle being "knifed" won't sit well with viewers who see themselves as part of "the Sunrise family", as the show refers to its audience.
The program could now be at risk of a serious viewer backlash.
Doyle's management have not responded to requests for comment but a Seven spokesman said: ''Mel was offered a prime time news gig because her talents in reporting live on big news events here, around the world in the past year alone (Bali anniversary, Obama inauguration, new Pope, floods) were recognised.
''But it was her choice to take the gig. She could have happily stayed with Sunrise. She decided it was time and the announcement was made on her terms.
''Mel's new agreement with the network was done months before the announcement [a fortnight ago]. She talked at length about this to all journalists shortly after the announcement, even going into specifics about how the negotiation played out.''