Once the untouchable powerhouse of daytime telly, This Morning has felt off the boil for well over a year.
If it wants to survive, the show needs a truly exciting and long overdue reset.
It was September 2022 when the wheels very distinctly started to come off.
Barely had This Morning moved on from backlash over a ‘dystopian’ competition in which viewers played to potentially have their bills paid when Willoughby and then-co-host Phillip Schofield were accused of jumping the queue to see the late Queen lying in state.
The incident may have been easily explained (they were in the media section with other working broadcasters; they weren’t visiting in a personal capacity) – but it was a furore from which their reputations, and the reputation of the show as a whole, never really seemed to recover.
Fast forward a few months to May of this year (via the faint sounds of booing at the 2022 National Television Awards), and reports of a rift between the once unstoppable duo became so distractingly loud that Schofield abruptly left with barely any fanfare.
Shortly after that, the programme then found itself engulfed in its biggest scandal yet when he admitted to an ‘unwise but not illegal’ affair with a younger member of the show’s crew, which he had lied about; something that quickly became one of the biggest national news stories of 2023.
Willoughby adopted the ‘keep calm and carry on’ approach (we all remember her ‘Firstly, are you okay? I hope so’ moment); sharing the sofa with a rotating cast of co-anchors including Josie Gibson, Alison Hammond and Craig Doyle.
Now, she has exited too; writing on Instagram that she’s made the decision ‘for me and my family’. And although her departure was shocking, I’ve no doubt she’ll have plenty of job offers as-and-when she’s ready to return to the spotlight.
The upshot is that the entire programme can now totally regenerate.
And it’s not just the presenting team that needs adjusting – I’d argue that the whole thing needs a refresh.
Now’s the perfect time for a big overhaul to properly close the door on this troubled, muted era and launch the fresh chapter it so desperately needs.
Redecorate the set, switch-up the branding, drop in some totally new contributors or segments – heck, even give the theme tune a hyperpop remix if you have to. Anything to really underline that it’s out with the old and stale, in with the new and refreshed.
Daytime TV in general has felt increasingly icky in recent times; weighed down by tone-deaf faux-pas like the Spin To Win debacle, and debates on tiresome ‘culture war’ topics that are anything but informative – in January of this year, for example, the show was criticised for featuring a discussion on Scottish gender recognition reforms without any trans people present.
The days of Gino D’Acampo cracking everyone up with his grandma-based bike-talk feel like they’re from a different lifetime altogether.
Just last week, in fact, This Morning had yet another backlash on social media when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made an appearance – and after all the events of the Conservative Party conference, was given what many took to be an extremely easy ride by the day’s hosts, Alison Hammond and Dermot O’Leary.
In fairness, Hammond and O’Leary don’t have the same job as someone like Kay Burley, and while it was perhaps unreasonable to expect them to give the PM a thorough cross-examination, the whole segment stank (‘Taylor Swift or Britney Spears?’); and – save for a moment in which O’Leary pressed him on Suella Braverman’s rhetoric – nobody came out of it looking any better.
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While daytime TV has always mixed serious current affairs with fun, lighter stuff, it has to get the balance right, and it shouldn’t feel this heavy and politicised.
We shouldn’t be seeing jokey attempts to find out ‘how cool’ Sunak is, or selfies of Phil and Holly with Boris Johnson. It certainly shouldn’t be in a position where the show itself is constantly a major news story.
When bosses are planning the show’s next era, they could do a lot worse than flicking over to Channel 4 for inspiration, where Steph’s Packed Lunch has proven that shows can still do all the things you’d want from the genre, in a way that feels fresh, fun and inviting.
Its blend of celebrity interviews, cookery, consumer interest items and real-life stories feels accessible and natural; and when the team does sit down to debate serious hot topics – like whether a certain policy should be implemented in schools, or if a particular approach to criminal prosecutions seems fair – it always feels balanced, led with empathy, and never errs into inflammatory culture-war nonsense.
Granted, that show hasn’t hit the same heights of popularity as This Morning, and it’s not like the ITV show doesn’t still have a lot of viewers – but it’s proof that there are ways to keep daytime feeling fresh and watchable; with a strong brand identity that viewers will want to be loyal to.
This might feel like a moment of crisis, but it doesn’t have to be – it could be a chance for an exciting all-round reboot.
Let’s just hope bosses take it.
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