ABC News Breakfast hosts Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland. Photo: Supplied A Nine publicity crew hands out merchandise outside the Federal Court in Queen’s Square. Photo: Michaela Whitbourn
Breakfast battle: Sunrise’s David Koch and Samantha Armytage, and Today’s Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson. Photo: Composite image
Virginia Trioli interviews Cyndi Lauper, centre, and Harvey Fierstein. Photo: Screenshot
Normally, a winner is declared after a fight. But the rules are different in commercial TV. Somehow, two networks can both declare victory. Then they’ll take it outside to the carpark and keep brawling.
We saw this last week, when Channel Nine claimed Today had overtaken Seven’s Sunrise to become the top-rating breakfast show. What followed, essentially, was this:
“We’re No. 1!” “No, we’re No. 1” “Well, you’re Donald Trump!” “No, you’re Donald Trump!”
I’m paraphrasing – but only slightly.
On Friday, this spectacle reached its unedifying climax. Moments before the networks were due to face off in the Federal Court, Seven settled its case against Nine.
Fiat justitia ruat caelum.
In Latin, this means, “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.” Stirring words. No doubt their author hoped that, centuries later, Sunrise’s Cash Cow would use this principle to maximise his earning potential.
Because Sunrise has more viewers across Australia, including regional audiences, it will exclusively call itself “Australia’s No. 1”. But Today retains certain bragging rights, having won the most official metropolitan ratings weeks this year. A Nine spokesman says its ads will become “market-specific”, suggesting Today will promote itself as No. 1 in certain cities.
It’s no accident this spat has hogged the headlines. The two rivals all but guaranteed it would. (Nine even handed out Today merchandise outside the Federal Court on Friday.)
Few programs can match commercial breakfast TV’s ability to draw attention to itself. Indeed, Today and Sunrise have got it down to a fine art. Confrontational political interviews. Cash give-aways. On-air gaffes. Tours of Australia. International celebrities. Lots of laughs. A strong social media presence. Anchors doing lavish spreads in the Women’s Weekly and Sunday supplements.
All this reflects a big budget – and a bigger network spin machine. Which makes Virginia Trioli’s and Michael Rowland’s achievements even more impressive.
Every week, more than 1.5 million Australians, including regional viewers, catch some of their ABC News Breakfast show. This year – again – their ratings have increased.
In breakfast TV, averages look startlingly small, because no one watches from start to finish. (They’re also misleading, because networks split their shows into “early” and “late” segments.)
So far in 2016, Sunrise is averaging around 540,000 viewers nationally, Today has 475,000 and ABC News Breakfast has 239,000. This adds up to several million people watching five minutes here, half an hour there.
And a growing number are choosing Trioli and Rowland.
It’s not hard to see why.
Now in their seventh year on air together, they’ve perfected the hardest part of breakfast TV: light and shade.
For some on-air duos, the banter flows easily – but the switch to hard news feels awkward. Or it’s the other way around: the hosts are seasoned journalists, and resent having to chortle at another YouTube clip about a singing cat. (And there’s nothing more excruciating than forced laughter.)
Compared to its commercial rivals, ABC News Breakfast is heavier on politics, world news and current events – and lighter on celebrity news. With no advertisements, its segments run for longer.
Previously, its guests were overwhelmingly politicians, business people or expert commentators. Over the past few years, actors and musicians have appeared: Quentin Tarantino, Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein to name a few.
But instead of silly stunts, they get decent questions.
And Trioli and Rowland give more of themselves now. But not too much.
To be a viable breakfast/morning/panel show host in 2016, one must also be a “personality”. Unfortunately, some have inferred that more personality equals more success. This is a) wrong; and b) the reason we have too many people tearfully divulging their problems over branded mugs of coffee.
Fortunately, we’re yet to see this on ABC News Breakfast. Or, mercifully, the “he says, she says” dynamic that one long-gone executive producer tried to enforce on a commercial program.
While Seven and Nine keep bickering, the national broadcaster puts out an alternative. And a growing number of Australians seem to prefer it.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.