Why being a This Morning presenter is the hardest job in TV
By Emma Kelly
For a long stretch, it seemed like Holly and Phil could do no wrong (Photo: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
A 21-year morning TV career ended with a whimper rather than a bang – although a very memorable whimper – when Phillip Schofield announced that he was stepping down from hosting This Morning last week. It came after weeks of front page headlines about an alleged rift between him and his co-host Holly Willoughby, claims about bad attitudes and hundreds of journalists tuning in to check how frosty the atmosphere was every 10am.
Despite being one of the UK’s most loved presenters, Phil left his job after two decades to receive an Instagram story – not even a grid post – goodbye from Holly, and a short eulogy from Alison Hammond and Dermot O’Leary. No tearful on-air send-off, no tribute show, I doubt even a whip round and a Colin The Caterpillar from production.
Whatever the reason Phil left in such a bizarre fashion, or whether you like him or not, this whole episode just makes me wonder – why would anyone ever want to work in morning TV?
I worked for seven years on various entertainment and showbiz desks in national newspaper offices, and by far, the most venom and furore came from morning TV. The hint of tension between two co-hosts will lead to weeks of drawn-out speculation and the inevitable departure of the less popular one. A slightly low neckline on a woman will spark Ofcom complaints and a moral panic. Being overly nice will see you ridiculed; overly critical, labelled a shrew. Forget primetime, this is the shark tank of television.
People who love morning television really love morning television. Back in the day, the same community would tune in for Good Morning Britain, stick around for Lorraine Kelly, watch all of This Morning, then The Jeremy Kyle Show, and top off the schedule with Loose Women. It’s the same now, minus Kyle. The national news agenda is shaped by shouty anchors on GMB and gossiping by former Coronation Street stars and influencers. But the viewing audiences have their favourites and their standards, and god help the shows if they slip.
For a long stretch, it seemed like Holly and Phil could do no wrong. They swept up National Television Awards, they went viral when they came into work hungover or collapsed into giggles over rude drawings, they made unmissable television when they discussed their own lives, like when Phil came out live on the show. They were as close to a married couple as you can get without hiring Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford. But even being the golden couple doesn’t mean you’re infallible. Somehow, accusations that the duo skipped the queue to survey the Queen’s coffin – a sentence that makes me feel like I have lost my mind – became more of a story than the Queen’s actual funeral, and was the domino that led to Phil’s colossal fall from grace.
Because morning TV is a different beast. In the eyes of the public, you are not playing a character, no matter what Lorraine Kelly says on her tax receipts (love you Lorraine). You are being paid handsomely to be you, so the audience feels that they have ownership over you. Any slight misstep or grumpy day or misaligned view is a slight on them, and they will come for blood. You can’t un-toe the party line, or grow apart from whoever you were golden-handcuffed to for the show’s sake. Until you leave your show, you are This Morning’s Phil, or Loose Women’s Colleen, or Lorraine’s Lorraine, and anything you do on or off the telly is up for debate. And when I say debate, I mean Colosseum style.
I’m not defending anybody in the This Morning debacle, but I do feel sympathy for everybody involved. Whether you’re trying to fake a friendship on the sofa while talking to nudists, or having to listen to a grown man bleat on about Meghan Markle for the 50th day in a row, or discussing the front pages when your personal dealings are in fact on the front page – morning TV has to be one of the most brutal jobs in the business.
Emma Kelly is an entertainment journalist