TV presenter Phillip Schofield has left the television programme This Morning after weeks of intense speculation surrounding visible on-air tension with co-host Holly Willoughby.
Viewers didn’t need the ever reliable and very scientific “body language experts” deployed by tabloids to tell them things felt a bit frosty between the pair.
Not with Willoughby showing the same levels of comfort usually associated with getting a smear test having to sit next to Schofield on set.
Like the children of bitterly divorced parents, many of us have been lapping up articles trying to work out where it all went wrong between British television’s mum and dad. Trying to reassure ourselves that no matter what has happened, there was real love between them once, right?
We are hoping these two people are really bezzie mates in real life, and that morning television is the smiley happy place it seems, and that Bosco really lives in a box and isn’t operated by a woman with her hand up his backside.
Breakfast television is one of the weirdest places you can work. For a job where “natural chemistry” between presenters is a key performance indicator, the role actually goes against nature most of the time.
First, there’s the ungodly start time. Depending on what time the show kicks off is, presenter alarms are usually set at 4am – or if they start midmorning and get a sleep in – a luxurious 6am.
Even the most sickening type of morning people (and you’ll always know who they are because morning people love telling others they’re morning people) would find it grinding getting up at what is technically still the middle of night for most people.
We feel we have a certain ownership over them because they come into our livingrooms every day
Then there’s the emotional labour of pretending they’re thrilled to be doing their job at that hour, after putting on full hair and make-up and sitting in itchy sucky-in knickers. They are not allowed to do their job wearing a comfy tracksuit with sleep in their eyes. They don’t have the luxury of starting an early shift communicating only in grunts until their second coffee like the rest of us.
We want them to pretend, even though personally I think there’s a market for a morning TV show where the anchors are as unenthusiastic as the rest of us watching at home. The general public might enjoy the odd weather report that goes “it’s going to piss down, which means the traffic will be shite so you’d want to get moving now so your jobsworth of a boss won’t give out”.
But television is about make believe. We want to believe presenters are close off screen. Even though a TV executive has most likely just plonked two colleagues together and gone “righto go off and be mates now” like your parents sitting you next to their friend’s random kid to watch videos in the livingroom at a party so they could drink wine in peace.
Befriending colleagues is tricky enough on its own without the added pressure of millions of people watching and knowing you could get the sack if the “chemistry” wasn’t right. A unhelpful and vague term in show business that sometimes means two people sparring intellectually with respect but sometimes actually means the woman laughing at the man’s jokes even when they’re not funny.
The established formula of the male-female morning TV couple has dominated screens globally for the last 20 years. Sometimes there’s an element of “will or won’t they?” sexual tension rumoured and even promoted by the networks to sell the show, making sure body language experts never have a slow year.
They become our Barbie dolls in a way. They have no lives of their own outside what plays out on our screens. We can project whatever we want on to them. “Now kiss” we say, shoving their plastic heads together.
We feel we have a certain ownership over them because they come into our livingrooms every day. We saw them more than our own families in the pandemic. They’re part of our lives.
But television is a harsh industry. Yes, you can still find genuine friendships, loyalty and kindness in the industry. However the reality is most people don’t leave their on-air TV jobs on their own terms when they’re ready. There’s a reason “don’t go on holiday” is an old workplace adage, just in case your replacement does a better job than you.
The tap on the shoulder is always looming, breeding an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. It leads to odd sights like watching grown adults scrabble over who reads what lines, and who gets put on cookery segments instead of the slot with the psychic medium.
A presenter’s worth and ability to make a living can be determined by two equally unreliable sources. The opinions of TV executives who are just people and not wizened zeitgeist mediums as much as they’d like to conjure that image. And the opinions of complete strangers filling out market research surveys. These are sometimes called Q-scores and involve people deciding whether you are trustworthy and likable based solely on watching a tape of you talking and reading at the same time.
It’s a strange way of life, privileged in some aspects and precarious in others. People are only too ready to tell you they don’t watch morning television but don’t we all love reading about it when it goes wrong?