The Battle for Breakfast – BBC Breakfast (BBC1); Good Morning Britain (ITV)
Mike Read and Terry Wogan must really have thought someone had it in for them at the dawn of 1983. These two were the kings of breakfast on Radios 1 and 2 respectively. Breakfast radio was the only broadcasting outlet then; but it was soon to be joined by not one, but two rivals, as both the BBC and ITV launched breakfast television. The BBC pipped ITV to the post on 17th January with Breakfast Time. (Watch a clip here). This was when we were first introduced to “The Sofa”; the piece of furniture that would dominate daytime television through to the present day. It was a mix of hard news and features presented by Frank Bough (who at the time was best known for Grandstand and Nationwide, not cocaine and prostitutes); Selena Scott (who was poached from News at Ten); sport with David Ike (errrr…where do you start with him) and astronomy with Russell Grant (there aren’t enough astronomers on the BBC these days. I wonder why that is?).
Two weeks later on 1st February, TV-AM launched with the “Famous Five”; David (not yet Sir) Frost; Michael Parkinson and Angela Rippon (both poached from the BBC. It would appear that 1 Selena Scott = 1 Michael Parkinson + 1 Angela Rippon. Presumably today 1 Bill Turnbull = 1 Mark Austin + 1 Ryland + 1 Keith Lemon); Anna Ford (again from News at Ten) and Robert Kee (no idea then and still no idea now). (Watch a clip here.)
To cut a long (and well documented) story short, the BBC won hands down. TV-AM recovered a few years later with Anne Diamond, Nick Owen and Roland Rat, but the BBC dominated. Then things changed (sort of). Both Breakfast Time and the revamped TV-AM were magazine shows, but on 18th September 1989 the BBC launched Breakfast News. The cuddly jumpers and sofa were replaced with a cuddly desk and cuddly suited presenters. Over the years the programme evolved into simply BBC Breakfast and the sofa returned (but the suits remained). Meanwhile over at ITV, TV-AM became GMTV (Good Morning Television…they do love their abbreviations at ITV don’t they…oh…there’s another one!). ITV has rigidly stuck to the magazine format, but has consistently trailed the BBC in the ratings. So in 2010 GMTV was scrapped and replaced three days later with Daybreak (version 1.0).
Daybreak is a classic example of how “poaching” talent from the competitors can fail. There has long been the belief that “the grass is greener on the other side” and big cheques attract talent to move (usually in the direction of ITV). Do you remember The Morecambe and Wise Show at the BBC? Of course you do, they repeat them often enough. What about the ITV years? No, me neither. When Jonathan Ross was at the BBC he had a chat show, radio show and the film show. Now he just has a chat show that trails Graham Norton in the ratings. Which brings us to Graham Norton. He was poached (I have an urge for eggs Benedict when I’m writing this. Not sure why) from Channel 4 in 2005. He had established himself as a chat show natural with So Graham Norton and the BBC wanted to replicate this. The only problem was that they already had their chat show supremo in Ross, so the search for a “vehicle” for Graham began. He went through Strictly Dance Fever (nope, me neither), Graham Norton’s Big Picture (ditto) until he landed How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria (success!!). But it was only after Wogan left Eurovison (2008) and Ross left the BBC (2010) that Norton established himself as a BBC personality. It certainly wasn’t an overnight transformation. Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley didn’t have that luxury of a bedding-in period when they moved to ITV. They (as do all the best TV partnerships) became a TV power couple almost by accident. In 2007 The One Show was launched with Adrian Chiles and a very pregnant Myleen Klass on the sofa (that sofa is still going strong) while Christine Bleakley was one of the “family” of reporters. Only when Myleen left to pop out another piano playing prodigy were Adrian and Christine paired up. By 2010 they ruled early evening TV and ITV wanted them to rule breakfast TV for them.
Daybreak (version 1.0) looked remarkably similar to GMTV in content, but with a stylish new look. The problem was that the Chiles/Bleakley partnership didn’t glow so brightly in the morning as it did in the evening and they had departed within 2 years. Daybreak (version 2.0) was launched in 2012 with Aled Jones and Loraine Kelly on the sofa and back in a studio which looked remarkably like the the old GMTV studio. This continued for a couple years, and then it all changed again. This time instead of poaching (maybe poached eggs on black pudding, that would be nice) presenters from the evening schedule, ITV decided to go for a “like-for-like” transfer and nab Susana Reid from BBC Breakfast to present their new show Good Morning Britain (which incidentally was the name of the main programme on TV-AM back in 1983. Really, GMB (more initials) is just TV-AM vers 4.0). The other thing they nabbed was the format, set and two thirds of the name from Good Morning America. As you can see here, they didn’t do a lot to anglicise it other than changing the Times Square backdrop for a London one.
Meanwhile, BBC Breakfast quietly moved to Salford, changed presenters but still kept its viewers and continues to beat GMB in the ratings. Ok, it’s recently had the “which side of the screen is most dominant” argument (apparently it’s the left. Is that because we read left to right? What about in countries where they read right to left?), but other than that it just seems to keep on keeping on.
The thing is, if you step back and think about it, both programmes are doing what their respective channels do best. BBC Breakfast is effectively an extension of its 6:30 news programme. In fact since the move to Salford it shares a studio with the North West’s regional news programme North West Tonight and at the weekend it shares some of its presenters. These are hugely popular shows so if you watch your regional BBC news programme then you will enjoy BBC Breakfast. Good Morning Britain is basically the early, early version of This Morning (with Lorraine being the early version). So if you enjoy a bit of Phil and Holly (Phil always sits on the left, so he comes first) then you will probably enjoy a bit of Piers and Susannah (ah, he sits on the left as well. I see where they are coming from now).
Today’s breakfast television is a complete reversal of the 1980’s version with BBC providing the news and ITV the lifestyle. In all fairness, it’s what both channels do best so it makes sense to “stick to the knitting”. Oh, but if you ever get confused as to which channel you are watching, just look out for the cushions on the sofa. Cushions are not newsy.