Friday 28 July 2017

Bacon and egos

It may be all smiles before breakfast and cuddly chat on comfy sofas -- but the hours are punishing, the pressures and egos are huge and when the knives come out it's murder on the studio floor.

British morning TV is a notoriously, often hilariously, bitchy environment in which viewers and showbiz columnists can be vicious and the hosts sometimes struggle to hide their simmering mutual antagonisms.

It's a hot-house world of ridiculously early mornings (try looking chirpy and glamorous after a month of 4am starts) and presenters who have to work very hard just to appear natural and relaxed.

The rival networks play for big stakes and the celeb-obsessed media is looking for any hint of a row, a scandal or even an extra wrinkle or bulge.

But when it works, as it has done for Richard and Judy and then Fern and Phil on ITV's This Morning, the rewards are huge and celebrity, UK-style, is guaranteed.

Grainne Seoige this week landed a fantastic opportunity to establish herself on British morning TV when she was announced as one of the new faces for Daybreak, which will replace GMTV in September.

ITV is determined to revive its morning ratings after several years of seeing GMTV die a slow death and Daybreak will go out in the fiercely competitive breakfast time slot of 6am to 8.30am.

The main hosts, Adrian Chiles and Co Down girl Christine Bleakley, know all about the tough world of lifestyle TV in the UK after jumping ship from the BBC's very successful The One Show.

Chiles, who fronted ITV's World Cup coverage, threw a strop in February when the BBC looked at bringing in Chris Evans to present the Friday edition of The One Show.

The presenter reportedly told Beeb bosses he didn't want to be seen as a "warm-up man" for Evans.

ITV moved quickly to poach the presenter with the admirably downbeat style and once Chiles had jumped ship for a €7m contract, Bleakley soon followed (for a reported contract of more than €1m).

The 31-year-old presenter from Newtownards is now ITV's highest-paid female presenter, a household name in the UK and apparently dating England and Chelsea footballer Frank Lampard.

That's not bad going for a woman who started out reading the news on local TV in Belfast. But Bleakley's dramatic rise has not been good news for everyone.

Showbiz columnists in Britain claimed that before concluding the ITV deal, the presenter sacked -- by text -- the agent who had transformed her from a little-known presenter of regional shows to a much sought-after national star.

Bad news for her former Mr Ten Percent. But happily for ITV, Chiles and Bleakley are said to have a very good working relationship and they have proved that they have the right kind of chemistry via The One Show.

Other co-hosts, however, have not been so cosy. Breakfast-show rows and resentments are catnip for showbiz reporters and are usually given the sort of coverage first seen with the break up of The Beatles.

Eamonn Holmes, the great survivor of morning TV, had an infamously frosty relationship with his co-host Anthea Turner when they worked together on GMTV in the mid-90s. Their relationship deteriorated to the point where Holmes reportedly delivered the classic "Either she goes or I do" ultimatum to ITV.

Turner was shoved off the couch and Eamonn, a week after giving Anthea a tearful goodbye kiss in front of millions of viewers, was quoted about his loathing for the "horrid" co-star he called "Princess Tippy Toes".

More recently, This Morning hosts Fern Britton and Philip Schofield parted company when Fern found out that Phil was earning at least twice her salary.

There was also the little problem of Fern's secret gastric-band surgery, as the press weren't too happy about the face of the 'Ryvita Bikini Fit Challenge' getting some hush-hush help from the surgeons.

Weight has also been a problem for Eamonn Holmes, who this week won a formal apology from the BBC after complaining about sketches that poked fun at his weight.

The This Morning presenter saw red over impressionist John Culshaw's take on him on The Impression Show.

The skits involved Culshaw, dressed up as Holmes, chomping on items such as a sofa and a vase of flowers and uttering the deathless catchphrase: "I was fierce hungry, so I was."

Morning TV presenters have proved to be a rich source of fun for satirists and popular press since the arrival of ITV's TV-am back in 1983.

The very glamorous but very feisty Anna Ford was fired as TV-am host after just three months, shouting about the "dumbing down" of morning TV as she was ushered towards the studio door.

Ms Ford later took her revenge on Tory MP and TV executive Jonathan Aitken, whom she blamed for getting her the sack, by pouring a glass of wine over his head at a party.

The very colourful Frank Bough was the first presenter, alongside Selina Scott, of the BBC's inaugural breakfast television programme, Breakfast Time.

Bough's career hit some turbulence in the late '80s after tabloid allegations that he enjoyed 'cocaine and hooker romps' while dressed in women's lingerie.

Bough had a last laugh, of sorts, when Have I Got News For You presenter Angus Dayton, who regularly ridiculed Bough's proclivities on his show, was caught out in an almost identical tabloid shag 'n' tell in 2002.

All great fun, of course, even if it is strange to see just how seriously we all tend to take our lifestyle TV.

Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley will be under huge pressure to deliver for ITV's relaunched morning show this September.

The papers will be looking out for any friction and the executives who poached them from the BBC will be looking nervously at the almost instant feedback on ratings.

Perhaps everybody involved, including the viewers, should just remember the golden rule of lifestyle broadcasting -- "Take a deep breath and relax, it's only a TV show."

Irish Independent

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