ITV: 6am – 12.20pm

By Ian Jones

First published April 2000

A day in the life of ITV begins with a technical glitch – handing over to the networked GMTV service from continuity is accompanied by a brief loss of picture and sound. It is a wholly appropriate portend for what follows.

The three and a half hour GMTV broadcast is in structure, aesthetic and atmosphere a mirror image of the old TV-am, even down to the glass jug of orange juice on the coffee table which nobody touches. The format’s identical: one hour of news-based information (cunningly titledNewshour), then from 7am a change of presenter and more random mix of features, guests and gossip (GMTV Today), segueing into a ragged chat-based “supplement” at 8.50am (Lorraine). There are fixed points throughout (news and weather every half hour, regional news every hour) but the whole programme rambles dangerously in-between.

Newshour introduces the first ITV hosts of the day, Pennie Smith and Ross Kelly, both unable to establish any engaging relationship with the viewer, let alone each other. Although news is supposed to be the core of this first hour, it is questionable what actually is news and what is simple nosiness and speculation. The newsreader, simply called Anne, links to a live reporter in a dark, deserted street in Derby, erroneously credited as Buxton, to back-up a story about the decline in bobbies on the beat. The reporter then gestures limply behind him to demonstrate that, yes, there are no bobbies on this street, therefore a new report from the Audit Office must be true. This typifies GMTV‘s notion of in-depth, analytical reporting.

The rest of the broadcast continues with the feel that not a lot of money or resources have been made available for anything other than sending out a lot of reporters to do these unnecessary live location links. A pre-recorded report from Britain’s most expensive house, for sale for £10m in Belgravia, is shameless promotion of interest-in-money passing as news. The weather comes live from a woman by the Millennium Wheel, or “Magic Eye” as it is wrongly called. Other live linkups are so clichéd it is hard to believe: a woman has been found who is 90 tomorrow and who still works regular hours in a cake factory. Martha Higgins, nonagenarian-to-be, burbles about how things were “much harder in the old days”, drops her cakes, and the reporter links back with the unintentionally ironic “And will you and I still be working for GMTV in 70 years?” A ridiculous filmed report (in widescreen!) about how men with plastercast legs have better luck with women closes this first hour.

For GMTV Today Kelly is replaced (without saying goodbye) with a hirsute Eamonn Holmes. Holmes is employed, presumably, for providing the relaxed, natural informality the earnest Smith fails to display. As if to illustrate this, when Smith launches off on a spontaneous rant about how she thinks car-alarms are pointless, her spurious logic is put down by Holmes as “a woman thing”. Holmes is someone it is hard to like. He does not engender respect, admiration or interest from the viewer. He displays an avuncular cockiness which is unsettling and faintly nauseating, and is prone to muttering often quite meaningless statements (beginning one feature “Do you worry when you don’t see a policeman?” and admitting “I don’t have an original thought in my head.”). It is amusing to see him appealing for people to ring in to explain the Scouse term “busies”, then have to wait 30 minutes for the first caller.

The notion of a division between the Newshour with its somehow more intense, focused and serious reportage, and what follows, is ridiculous: the distinction is meaningless, as the agenda of the one is duplicated relentlessly by the other. Almost all the material from that first hour appears again, whether it be the same guests, same pre-recorded inserts or same OB links (the man in the Derby street, twice). Dr Hilary, who has no surname, holds a surgery – “The only surgery in the country where you’ll get a quick appointment” drawls Eamonn. From a poorly-realised faux-hospital set he takes two calls, one on impotency, one on chest pains. Neither are properly addressed.

Lorraine is on the theme “Dishing the Dirt”. A guest arrives – a model wearing a tiny pink dress (“Goodness me!” splutters Lorraine) who has kiss and told on a number of celebrities. This is tabloid TV at its worse. There are some callers, and Max Clifford turns up trying to defend the indefensible. The best friend of a Coronation Street actress calls in, and Clifford tries to get her to reveal what she’d do if the actress was discovered “molesting small children”. “What a ludicrous suggestion.” Lorraine thunders. Finally we get Princess Diana’s ex-personal trainer on the phone – only it turns out she’s only on because she’s now Lorraine’s personal trainer.

GMTV confirms and recycles various value judgements with brazen audacity without properly contextualising or critiquing them; allows its guests a soapbox to air unqualified prejudices; dresses up age-old tabloid obsessions as contemporary concerns via the thinnest of references to the week’s news; and repeats itself countless times thanks to a lack of structure, direction and control from not least its team of presenters. If watching is supposed to ease your morning, if anything the reverse is true: an unresolved tension arising from the clumsy presentation, narrative, humour and links makes watching a painful ordeal.

The confessional tabloid-esque feel continues with Trisha. This is a US format talk show relocated in British suburbia, where twitching net curtains, gossiping neighbours and whispered asides are the oxygen of daily life. Trisha Goddard controls the unfolding of drama through a pre-planned sequence of revelations and counter-revelations on the theme “Hands Off – He’s Mine!”

Proceedings are ritualised to an extreme, including audience response. Two feuding best friends quarrel, one of whom suspects the other of seeing her groom-to-be and “betraying” her; the sniping and shouting is horrible – you are watching a friendship disintegrating on screen. There are references to other events that make no sense; and mobile phones, significantly, play a big part (the tool of the contemporary adulterer, it seems). An old woman in the audience rises to dispense worldly wisdom, as she will do regularly, articulating “common sense” and the viewer point-of-view. During the McCarthy-esque interrogations that comprise all three of these case-studies, Trisha appeals for Ordinary People to appear on future programmes, and at the end of each segment she does a pompous moralistic summing up to camera to provide some closure and give the impression something has been proved/achieved. It’s uncomfortable broadcasting from start to finish, a celebration of voyeuristic petty sticky-beaks and earwiggers; everyone is exploiting everyone else, and no-one comes away from this programme, especially the viewer, guiltless.

Trisha dovetails neatly into This Morning, hosted as ever by veteran husband-and-wife Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan. Although they aren’t credited, neither on screen or during the titles, this doesn’t matter – Richard and Judy (surnames not important) are this programme; all of the guests, features and items are mediated through them and their own perspective.

There is a bustling feel to the show, established at the start by the dismissive way the magazine-based menu for the next 100 minutes is outlined. A parade of Ordinary People troop on and off set rather clumsily to tell us three stories of amazing medical discoveries, each contextualised and mediated by Dr Chris (why do so few people on ITV have surnames?). This Morning endeavours to appear, like the studio set which uses the ever-changing banks of the River Thames as a backdrop, a window onto real life, and not a contrived or artificial reflection of semi-reality. Hence the Ordinary People, who also participate in the fabric of the programme via the telephone. This happens in two ways: one, the medical “surgery” phone-in, and two, via a ludicrously easy competition, based on a guess-the-year premise which allows you to enter the “Midday Money” contest.

When Dr Chris opens his surgery he deals with five callers, all women, all of whom have quite serious problems. But in most cases Richard and Judy hijack the diagnosis to proffer their own advice (especially Richard, a nasty authoritarian streak coming through as he shouts at one woman to get herself to the doctor’s “Today!”). They relentlessly criticise GPs, happy in the knowledge there is no-one around to answer back. “I could strangle your GP – what a screw up.” Richard wails; his rambling expositions on everything from nut allergies to antidepressants are intensely irritating, while all Dr Chris really does is mention long words in a calm voice.

Then there are the obligatory DIY, fashion and star guest segments, the latter comprising a grovelling sofa based interview/chat with Martin Kemp which offsets references to Kemp’s two brain tumour operations with tasteless jokes about steel skulls setting off airport metal detectors and Richard very self-consciously making the tea halfway through. A news summary from Katie Derran occurs at 11am – the first contribution of the day from ITN, who will misleadingly be referred to as ITV News the whole 24 hours. Minutes after weeping over dying babies in Mozambique, Judy is leaping about celebrating a record winner on “Midday Money” who is to receive £16,000 after answering a succession of very easy questions. The show then ends surreally with a psychic vet who reads the minds of various pets wheeled into the studio. Alas, time runs out and the programme ends incredibly suddenly with no credits or music, and the same rushed feeling with which it began.

There is an unavoidable temptation, encouraged primarily by Richard through his cavalcade of interjections and personal anecdotes, to watch This Morning as much for its insights into the hosts’ marriage as for the magazine features. You can’t really ignore it, given the way Richard goes out of his way to perpetually pepper proceedings with personal testimonies. Judy looks uncomfortable whenever her husband does this, and suffers from the shakes throughout. They are a macabre double-act but one that makes the show, and without which it perhaps could not survive for long.

  <BBC2: 6pm – 6am