What will ITV do with This Morning?
Phillip Schofield is the latest breakfast TV presenter to fall foul of a scandal. But is the press focussing on the right thing?
Not for the first time Alastair Campbell has summed up the state of things very well.
Phillip Schofield lied about what sounds like a perfectly legal affair with an 18-year-old runner on the This Morning breakfast show and it’s treated in the papers like the biggest story since the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
“Johnson has also lied about affairs. But more importantly he lied to deliver Brexit, lied to become PM, lied to win an election and lied his way through the most catastrophic Premiership in all of British history. Yet much of the media continue to report his utterances without providing that rather important context,” noted Campbell.
He is right, of course, but Johnson is a story for another day, or more precisely many more days to come.
But what does the Schofield affair, and the 13-year on the TV sofa relationship with Holly Willoughby, tell us about presenter power and the ability of TV managers to even try to stay in control of the businesses they are supposed to be running?
It is clear that through repeated appearances in the living rooms of the land of fairly ordinary people with the ability to read an autocue with a modicum of apparent sincerity, one can become famous and rich.
Some become richer and more famous than others.
For some reason it is ITV’s breakfast television show that has, with the happy complicity of the tabloid papers, generated a running soap opera on the side.
In one of the latest episodes Dr Ranj Singh a regular guest on the programme said there had been a “toxic culture of bullying and discrimination”.
Then Eamonn Holmes, who presented This Morning’s predecessor GMTV for years before moving to Sky News and then back to This Morning on Friday mornings during the school holidays, has also got in the act.
Holmes, who now works in the care home for presenters of a certain age and right-wing opinions, GB News, denounced his one-time friend Schofield as “delusional” and “a liar.”
In a direct attack on Schofield, Holmes offered support to former workmates who had been frightened and ignored by “Pip’s allegedly controlling and coercive behaviour”.
Piers Morgan got involved in the action by comparing Good Morning to the 1992 crime movie Reservoir Dogs and added for good measure that there would be a lot of “corpse careers” before the matter was over.
It was Morgan who was the centre of the last big shindig on This Morning when he left after failing to apologise for saying on air that he did not believe a word Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, had said in her interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Why is it always the breakfast presenters?
And so the soap opera will roll on and on until ITV management decide that enough damage has been done — or not — to the company’s reputation and pull the show from the schedules until a quick revamp can be organised.
Perhaps the new version could be called “Yet Another Day” or, with a nod to ITV heritage, “Good Morning Television” once again.
It’s strange that other television programmes do not seem to have such rancid presenter problems.
There were fewer bigger beasts in the broadcasting world than Jeremy Paxman yet Newsnight survived his departure. On Monday night when Paxman bowed out of presenting University Challenge after nearly 30 years, mainly because of ill health, he did it quietly and with dignity.
The next series will be presented by Amol Rajan, who is clearly determined to be the next big broadcasting beast to break out of a new generation.
Compared with the quiet life on Newsnight and University Challenge the big rows always seem to break out at breakfast time. Is it because all the presenters and staff have to get up so early in the morning?
We are into an era where almost anyone can be a TV presenter and having absolutely no experience doesn’t seem to be a handicap. At least at GB News where everyone from Nick Farage, Jacob-Rees Mogg and Nadine Dorries have all turned up — the latter two while simultaneously representing their constituents in the House of Commons.
Rather strangely in all the circumstances Dorries, while waiting for her peerage in the Johnson resignation honour’s list, schooled herself in the art of television presenting by watching The Morning Show.
This is the hit drama based on a fictional New York breakfast TV show. Dorries, who was once Culture Secretary, admits to being gripped as she watched breaking news on the drama — Jennifer Aniston’s co-anchor Mitch Kessler caught up in a MeToo scandal and tried to take everything down with him including the show’s ratings and the company’s share price.
Sounds familiar and it makes GB News sound rather sedate, although such knowledge might equip Dorries for future promotion to This Morning, or whatever ITV’s breakfast show will then be called.
As Schofield has now found out presenters come and go, particularly if they fail to tell the truth about off-screen relationships.
A new type of presenter
Yet a new super breed of presenters has now emerged able to sit astride the international twin worlds of newspapers and television while managing to earn megabucks.
Piers Morgan must be the first British member of the new species with — reportedly — a £50m contract from Rupert Murdoch spread over three years like a professional footballer in a middling Premier League club.
It involves Morgan popping up on everything from Talk TV in the UK, Fox News in the US and Sky in Australia. It was Morgan who anchored the Fox coverage of the Coronation of King Charles III. Then there are the columns in The Sun and the New York Post.
In fact, one day soon Morgan will have to clone himself or ship in AI so that he can present and write 24 hours a day.
Back in the real world the Cabinet Office has been given until tomorrow to hand over all of the former Prime Minister’s diaries and WhatsApp messages created during the pandemic to Baroness Hallett who is chairing the Covid Inquiry.
The Cabinet Office is claiming that parts of the discussions are “unambiguously irrelevant.”
Perhaps if the newspapers had time to lift their noses from the Schofield and This Morning affair they would see the logical flaw in the argument.
After all any messages that turn out to be unambiguously irrelevant can be returned to their owners without publication and it would be a real shame to miss any that were relevant.
Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.