It’s not yet “MONDAY! 28th APRIL! 2014!”
It’s the Friday before, and on Daybreak Aled Jones is stoic. He’s shown us a man painting an Artexed ceiling in new Good Morning Britain colours, and now, with the dying of the light, he says this: “It’s been a fantastic time and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it”. A montage follows of Daybreak‘s best bits during the Aled and Lorraine era. It’s been drawn from such a narrow time-frame, there isn’t even the fun of seeing hairstyles change. Aled’s got a Saturday morning chat show to get to, so that’s good. As for the new programme, “I’ll be watching, definitely!”
Also watching, me. And – after some coercion – Ian Jones, the author of the definitive history of breakfast television (I’ve mentioned it before) Morning Glory.
Ian’s remarks will look like this.
06.00 – Monday arrives with a clarion call. Horns usher in a new breakfast show, and Susanna Reid will tell us what to do. “Good morning, Britain,” she says. “Children as young as two could soon be starting school – but is it too much too soon?” The titles, the music, it’s all quite impressive. As many have since pointed out, much of this owes a debt to NBC’s Today Show, but who cares? What ITV needed to establish at breakfast was something that’s always implicit in the BBC’s news coverage, a little bit of grandeur and authority. There’s a rare confidence here in the power of ‘ITV’ as a brand, which runs contrary to the current, unassuming network logo, all in cursive. We’re told “Live from ITV studios in London” as if that’s the be-all, and so it should be. The channel hasn’t been so swaggering since it was LWT at the weekends. And, fittingly, it’s all coming at us from what was once known at the London Weekend Television building. Inside, there are even ITV decals on the glass doors, like this is CTU.
06.01 – At the desk, Susanna plus Ben Shephard, Sean Fletcher and Charlotte Hawkins. Almost immediately there’s mention of Facebook and Twitter, the accompanying, always moving on-screen graphics constantly update like an RSS feed. The Good Morning Britain logo itself is unprepossessing. There’s presumably a consultancy firm out there who’ve been paid a lot to rationalise why the name seems to have been situated inside a plectrum, and this slightly unhappy shape informs a lot of the imagery. That said, it’s all neat and unobtrusive, if not mostly irrelevant.
06.02 – “Andi Peters is in Leeds for us…” He patrols Kirkgate Market, forcing locals to say “good morning” to loved ones on camera. They’re really going to be coining the “good morning” stuff today.
06:04 – A house fire in Sheffield, and Susanna listens, head cocked, to a report over the phone from their man en route, Gamal Fahnbulleh. The visual grammar of the show is beginning to make sense. Concentric circles and a whoosh take us into ‘Breaking News’ or ‘Developing Story’, the phrase then sitting above the ticker like an open tab on your web browser. It means you can jump into the show whenever – which is how most viewers will take it – and orientate yourself quickly.
Oh dear: the Sheffield fire is a genuine big story, and all they’ve got is someone on the end of a phone. There isn’t even a file photo of the reporter! They might as well not have bothered.
06:05 – I’ve counted four textbook breakfast TV blunders in the first five minutes. 1: Desks; they’ve never worked at breakfast time, and given most of us spend our working day surrounded by them, they’re the last thing you want to see first thing in the morning. 2: No explanation of what’s on when; I’ve no idea when to expect the weather, sport, local news or even the headlines. 3: Too many people; they’re already talking over each other, competing for my attention, and it’s really irritating. 4: Too much of the wrong kind of information; the screen is overloaded with stuff more befitting a rolling news channel, not a magazine show.
06:08 – Their lead feature on children going to school from the age of two was first being reported as a news story weeks ago. It’s a very contrary choice for such a key slot.
06:10 – Susanna is in a different part of the studio to talk to a guest from Citizen’s Advice. It’s a kind of a little breakaway room, that makes you wonder at which point did she have to sneak out from behind the desk.
I’m afraid I’m laughing out loud at the man who announces: “I’m living out of the pocket of my widowed mother.” It must be awfully cramped in there.
06:11 – Like ITN days of yore, a little inset photo of the story being discussed hovers to the side of the presenter. The camera operator’s gentle nudges right just manage to keep the plectrum-shaped image out of the way of Ben’s head which continually threatens to disappear behind it.
06:12 – “It’s been a very deadly night and morning in America.” Ah, so the rest of the world does exist. This is the first time we’ve heard about anything from anywhere not in Britain. A shame it’s not actually “morning in America” just yet, as we can see from the picture behind Cordelia.
06:14 – Charlotte tells us we can expect our local news and weather just before half-past.
06:17 – Susanna breaks out the first element of her ITV persona, exclaiming “Yay!” at the mention of the upcoming One Direction feature. There’s then a slight autocue fail, Susanna listing the countries in which the band has notched up number… number what? She plumps, hopefully, for “one”, but is slightly derailed by the hiccup. Ben jumps in, they pull it together: “That’s chemistry!” says Susanna. Ben wants mums to send in videos of their daughters responding to this upcoming item, be they “screamer or fainter”.
06:18 – The show has been front-loaded with One Direction, though I doubt any of the “million fans” will be up yet. Susanna’s appeal for people to “send in your photos and reaction to that video” sounds half-hearted. She says the words “Instagram” and “Vine” as if she’s encountering them for the first time.
06:19 – A newspaper review, the dailies appearing on an App Store-like carousel.
06:20 – A recap of the headlines, scored by that nicely pompous theme music. The four presenter set-up feels less unwieldy than we might have feared. In truth, the quartet are rarely in one shot together, instead they feature in single close-ups, each hosting their own strands of the programme.
06:22 – Laura Tobin with the “weather you’re waking up to this morning”.
06:26 – Following an interview in the break-out area with Nadine Dorries, MP (on video) and director of the Prison Reform Trust Juliet Lyon about compensation paid out to a convict when his belongings were mislaid, the blinking inverted-comma appears signalling the first commercial-break.
06:27 – There’s been no logic to the format of this first half-hour whatsoever. There was no mention we’d be getting a newspaper review, but one has turned up anyway. We’ve had no sport news at all. I’m still not clear what are the big stories of the day. What’s more important: the house fire, George Clooney’s engagement, tornadoes in America or the One Direction video?
“…Another TV legend, Andi Peters, will be joining us live from Leeds”
06:28 – And then into the local news, with an obviously pre-recorded link-cum-hostage video from Ben for viewers in the London area. This will be continually played out over the morning.
06:33 – After another news round-up, Ben hands over to Sean for sport. As is the way of things, there is a little impromptu chat to form a kind of segue. It’s textbook, even starting with the old “I dunno” staple of Nationwide vintage. Ben: “I dunno if, like, in our house you were gripped by the sport yesterday…” At the end of this section, after a mention of Tom Daley having to consult a sports psychologist, Ben makes another off the cuff remark about trying out diving himself. Time for Susanna to jump on this: “I’m haunted by the thought of you diving.” Sean one-ups her: “I’m haunted by the thought of you [Ben] in Speedos”.
06:38 – Andi Peters is struggling with a brass-coloured sheet in Leeds. He’s attempting a flourish, the unveiling of his Wheel of Cash. Then: “£50,000 could be yours and here’s how”. Oh dear. No matter what ambitions GMB might be nurturing to become some kind of national hub, the ITV mainstay of pleading for premium-rate telephone and text revenue remains a core element.
I’d forgotten you have this sort of thing on commercial breakfast television. Andi Peters’ Wheel of Cash feels like an idea Chris Evans would have rejected for TFI Friday, but not the early, good, TFI Friday – the show it became at the end, when it was shit. There must be more dignified ways of earning a living at this time of day. And that goes for both you, Peters, and you, Mr ITV.
06:40 – Oh heaven’s above, it’s Ross King “live” from the USA.
As ever it was, Ross has a giant Hollywood sign growing out of his back, as if there’s still something intrinsically thrilling about man’s technology to put another man on the west coast of America and then chat to him.
We’re now back in 1983 and Bob Friend doing links for Breakfast Time in front of a cut-out of the Empire State Building. I’m also sick of this “all the women will be disappointed – and you too Ben!” spiel about George Clooney getting engaged.
“Good morning, Ben, Good morning Susanna, Good Morning Britain!” says Ross. Kerching! Phrase coinage! “Well, I file this one under sort of hashtag-wee-bit-of-a-suprise, hashtag-girls-dry-your-eyes”. #Clunky. Ross then cuts to… Ross, in a Malibu restaurant where Clooney once ate a meal. Summing up the actor’s alleged fiancée – a lawyer – our man concludes: “Brains and beauty! Perhaps it’s George who’s the lucky one.” From Ross, back to Ross. And Susanna asks him about quizzing Clooney on his love life. Ross tells us, hope draining a little from his eyes, “He’s great to banter with on the red carpet”, teeing up a clip… that doesn’t arrive.
It amuses me that the link-up with Ross goes wrong. How come the technology worked in 1983 and not 2014?
06:42 – An expert! “Talk us through some top tips about how to avoid counterfeit goods online.” “Yeah, absolutely.” This bit seems to have dropped in from a late-1980s Channel 4 consumer programme, complete with gaudy scatter cushions.
06:45 – “Perhaps you’re already in the kitchen making breakfast for the family”. The programme throws to a reporter who’s in Morecambe, Lancashire, visiting the Radford family – “16 children and counting” as they say on their website (media enquires [sic] here)
06:47 – A headline round-up, over a bed of the GMB music.
06:54 – Maybe it’s nerves, but Susanna still seems uneasy reciting all the social media stuff. She commits the textbook error of telling us, “I know it sounds rather confusing…” thereby losing even more of our respect. Richard Arnold has two sentences to say, and even then he cocks them up.
Like the phone competition, Richard is part of the root and branch of ITV breakfasts. So much so, he’s spuriously wheeled on here, just so we know he’s still alive. As is his wont, he adopts a faintly derisory tone, hands clasped, smirk fixed. “Thanks boys,” he says throwing into a One Direction VT, which he has had no part in. And afterwards in a jaundiced tone: “And that’s not just any old pier! That’s Clevedon Pier – the pier of the year!”
07:00 – The show has completed one full rotation and we’re back at the top. Once more, the fanfare, “Live from ITV Studios…”, the shot of the tower, the headlines. As we’ve seen a lot of it before, we’ll (mercifully) go lighter on the details from hereon in.
I don’t get why the ITV Studios are given so much lip service in the voiceover and the title sequence. No one cares nowadays where ITV comes from, mainly because ITV itself hasn’t cared for about 20 years. I now think the set most closely resembles one of those posh estate agents where all the pictures of houses are behind intimidating glass panels rather than on noticeboards. Or maybe a “meeting room” in an open-plan office where all the walls are glass so everyone can see colleagues getting bollocked.
07:02 – Gamal Fahnbulleh still isn’t in Sheffield.
It’s been an hour. The faceless reporter is still on the phone. They could at least have dug out an old photo of John Stapleton.
07:04 – Dammit! The camera operator’s too slow and Ben’s head finally darts behind the plectrum-shaped inset.
07:07 – Someone has sent in an email, and it’s read out with great fanfare, like it’s the first communication from a Mars planetary rover. And now the repeats kick in. Here’s the man living in the pocket of his mother.
07:12 – Where are the big guests? So far we’ve had Nadine Dorries and Esther McVey: two politicians usually to be found turning viewers against them (and each other) on Question Time or Newsnight, not over coffee and cornflakes. We’re promised Paul O’Grady, but not until after 8am, as if we’re at school and we’ll get a treat but only if we’re good.
07:13 – “What better way to begin… start… begin… someone’s put some extra words in my head.” – Susanna
07:27 – Andi Peters in Leeds grabs the same girl from earlier for another chat. “What’s your name?” Then he accosts Mick the butcher, delighted that he was actually in the market before the trader. “But I couldn’t get in, the bottom door wasn’t open,” says Mick. Andi is contrite: “Sorry about that”. Mick, spins the wheel…
It can’t be helped that the first person to win anything gets only £50. What can be helped is the cringeworthy banter between Ben and Andi. “Andi is not the only prize on offer!” coos Ben as he hands over. “Oh, you know what… let’s not go there!” giggles Andi, meaninglessly.
Once Andi’s plugged the phone-in competition again, we see our final shot of Mick, now holding up a laminated card that reads: “£50”.
07:33 – “Breaking news, overnight.” An oxymoron from Susanna. I don’t remember her being this slapdash on the BBC.
07:36 – The presenters are working hard to keep bringing it back home. Sean’s had a text from his daughter which he reads aloud: “‘Dad, why didn’t you tell me about the One Direction exclusive?’ I’m just texting back, ‘Life is full of surprises.'”
07:39 – Ben has apparently been chanting “Crystal Palace” during Sean’s segment. I didn’t hear anything. “What’s it like doing a sports bulletin and being heckled at the same time?” asks Susanna.
This is perhaps the lowest point so far. Yes, that includes Soapy Dick.
07:46 – Still more about the presenters’ lives as we share breakfast with “Britain’s biggest family”. Ben: “I’ve got two boys at home…” Susanna: “I have a problem remembering the names of my children and there’s only three of them.”
07:49 – CLANG! “Find out more about what April showers are on my blog on the Daybreak website.”
07:54 – Ben makes a comedy reference about his devotion to Five Star. “We’ll park that for a moment, what an image!”says Richard Arnold, leaning on two well-worn humorous phrases (the parking and the image).
All morning we’ve been promised that One Direction will “talk about their love lives like never before.” Well, this is the last of the clips, and they don’t. It’s also the last of Richard, whose sole contribution has been to sit on a sofa and twice screw up a joke about One Direction’s entourage being bigger than that of Barack Obama.
08:00 – And here we go again, “Live from ITV Studios…”
Peak-time, the key slot, time for the biggest story of the morning. And it’s George Clooney, followed by Britain’s largest family. I’m utterly flummoxed: what kind of audience are they trying to attract? Who are they talking to? Not Paul O’Grady, who is shown looking dejected and half-asleep all alone in an enormous green room.
08:03 – Finally, someone makes it to Sheffield, but it’s not Gamal Fahnbulleh, it’s Adam Fowler. But Gamal? What’s become of him?
08:10 – Ross King is at it again. “Hashtag-girls-dry-your-eyes-and-Ben-stop-blubbing-away-in-the-corner”. This time, the red carpet clip of Ross accosting George Clooney makes it to air. Ross sounds a little desperate in talking up his fleeting acquaintance: “Great fun, great banter. He always gets back at me as well!”
08:18 – There’s an awful lot of presumption here. We should be flattered, the programme is saying, that there are no fewer than four people hosting proceedings, and that we’ve got a 90-second clip of One Direction, and that the only outside broadcasts we’ve done are with Nadine Dorries in a field, Andi Peters in a market, and in the kitchen of Britain’s largest family. Still, at least Lorraine’s coming up, and she’s got… oh. BBC newsreader Kate Silverton. “Do you like my new home?” she trills, in front of a row of saucepans.
08:19 – Cut to Paul O’Grady in the green room: “I’m nodding off, here!” Susanna roars with laughter.
08:23 – A last spin of Andi’s wheel, and Joe – one of many media students hanging around the market this morning – nabs £500. Andi hands back to the studio by plugging his daytime quiz show, Ejector Seat.
08:25 – It’s Paul O’Grady in a “rare TV interview” (according to Ben). Susanna asks after his dogs and explains what ‘twerking’ is. And that’s it, we’re nearly out.
Paul O’Grady gets just four minutes. Susanna seems more at ease here – a shame she’s left it until the programme’s dying breath. “George Clooney – he looked like a dog in Switzerland!” shouts Paul. He’s still at it as the closing music swells.
Susanna plugs their interview tomorrow with Zac Efron who’s starring in Bad Neighbours. “Who wouldn’t want to live next door to Zac Efron?”
Only Susanna and Ben get the chance to say goodbye. The other two have vanished. Good Morning Britain isn’t a show; it’s a piece of flat-pack furniture that’s been incorrectly and implausibly assembled from instructions dating back 40 years.
As history shows, ITV’s breakfast programmes will always draw reviews that, in the years to come, prove ironic. Praise for the original TV-am gang of five, brickbats for GMTV. As it happens, we’re providing both options here. Because unlike Ian, I see promise in Good Morning Britain. The structural elements seem right; the capable presenting line-up (although the reliance on a few jaded supporting players feels retrogressive), the self-important music and graphics and an implied promise of somehow being a definitive, all-encompassing service. Granted, the content isn’t there yet, and by that, I don’t mean the show necessarily needs more. If you analyze BBC Breakfast, or Daybreak or any other forerunner, you’ll see that essentially they’re only ever loaded up with 15 minutes worth of material. But there’s a relevance gap when it comes to the Radfords, two-year-olds at school or Richard Arnold coming on to talk about a One Direction piece he’s had no input into.
Shall I make a prediction? Yes, let’s seal Good Morning Britain‘s fate. Despite the papers reporting the programme has “shed viewers” I think this will – after a fashion – work well enough for ITV.
Who’s on tomorrow? “Patrick Kielty.” *Click*