Unhappy birthday to This Morning
Trite, inconsequential, and aimed at bored women: why celebrate this show?
So, This Morning is 20 years old this year. As ITV1 has been reminding us constantly in recent weeks.
But what is there to celebrate? This Morning has been a haven for layabout students and moronic housewives for two decades now. We should be mourning its very existence rather than heralding it. It is a celebration of mediocrity. I hate it because, like watching Loose Women (also ITV1), reading Richard Littlejohn’s newspaper columns or logging on to Facebook, watching This Morning is annoyingly addictive.
This daytime programme came into existence in October 1988, initially headed by Richard ‘Alan Partridge’ Madeley and Judy Finnigan. It adopted a kind of magazine format that followers of Nationwide or That’s Life in the early 1980s will be familiar with: a bit of serious politics to begin with, then some showbiz news, a feature about erectile dysfunction, a cat that could rollerskate, some agony aunt advice that always ended with the coda ‘you must remember that it’s not your fault’, a cookery section (a feature in any programme that immediately informs you that you really should be doing something better instead), all topped off by a song by Michael Bolton or Rick Astley. And there’s the default bit about the ‘credit crunch’ thrown in somewhere for good measure.
Imagine the Fox News channel digested into a two-hour resumé, and then you’ve got This Morning. It’s not quite as right-wing, I admit, but it conveys a similarly conservative message, interspersed with scare stories and mundane pieces of trivia. It’s like breakfast television. Except it’s shown in the middle of the day. In other words, This Morning has always been the televisual equivalent of the Daily Mail: trite, inconsequential, hysterical, full of psychobabble, and designed for bored women. Watching a DVD of the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy the other night, I couldn’t but help think that Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone were dead ringers for Richard and Judy.
The strange paradox is that the presenters of This Morning have been quite endearing. Madeley was self-consciously ridiculous; Finnigan a loveable nervous wreck; Phillip Schofield is simply loveable; Eamonn Holmes is the archetypal cheeky chappy Irishman who could even make you like Manchester United; agony aunt Denise Robertson is grandmaternal; doctor Chris Steele avuncular; the rotund, buxom Fern Britton has a classic maternal appeal.
And as unfashionable as it is to say it, John Leslie was a good presenter, before his career was ruined by slander.
But why did they and do they talk such rubbish? I think it’s because ITV is, in its essence, rubbish by nature. The BBC is today mostly rubbish because it is didactic; ITV is rubbish because it is populist, and always panders to the lowest common denominator. This Morning is the perfect exemplar of this tendency. Independent television thrives on worrying viewers and spreading fear. Again, consider Fox News: although I sympathise with its right-wing propaganda, Fox News is hysterical in the shameless manner in which it propagates it. Still, I admire its honesty, contrasted with CNN or the BBC’s surreptitiousness.
So I think ITV should follow Fox’s honest example. There have been lots of stories about ITV axing its regional news output in order to cut costs, and accusations about it ‘dumbing down’ in order to chase ratings. But when has ITV ever been clever? Sure, it had a period in the 1970s when it briefly tried to be high-brow, notably with World In Action and when News At Ten was actually respected, but otherwise it has always been slave to the advertisers. It might as well give up its eternally hopeless and deceitful pretence at being on a par with the BBC. Why not just be out with it and say: ‘We’re ITV and we’re crap. And we’re good at making crap.’
This Morning has a populist appeal. It appeals to popular phobias and feeds into popular neuroses. And it does so through that most devious of means: by having nice presenters and generally being agreeable.
Patrick West is spiked‘s TV columnist.
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