“Danger” doesn’t cover half of it…

Right from the start, Channel 10’s Breakfast was hard up against it.

Entering a market where the battle for viewers was bloodthirsty was going to be tough, so it was important the program started on the right foot. Smart casting and a strong announcement supporting it. Dr Andrew Rochford was announced as the first of the co-hosts when Ch10 mooted the program at their 2012 schedule launch way back in August 2011 (and the name… well, it had potential – at least we all knew when it would be on). Even I wasn’t sure what would be made of it.

“But who else will join him?” we all asked. A coy “Wait and see!” was the reply and it took until early January to announce Paul Henry as Ten’s coup moment – but what of the female hosts? Where’s the balance? By late January (and many auditions and MUCH discussion over the mix, style and chemistry of the hosts) Kathryn Robinson and Magdalena Roze were confirmed as the two that rounded out the hosting quartet. Not exactly clean or even decisive.

Everyone then shifted their guesswork to when the first program would air. In early February it was announced that Monday 27 Feb would see the launch of Ch10’s new flagship breakfast program but ructions within the Federal Labor Party saw Kevin Rudd challenge Prime Minister Julia Gillard for the leadership, and to ensure it didn’t miss out on all the fun Paul Henry announced on The Project on Wed 22 February that the show would be starting the next day to cover all the fun. They mis-stepped in not going live into Qld and the western states (both Sunrise and Today went live nationally with both the JG & KR press conferences that morning) but that could easily be accounted for as a rookie mistake – but you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Breakfast didn’t do too bad – 51,000 viewers is a great place to start for an entirely new product in an already constricted market – and it could always improve, right? I was… optimistic… (classic me).

The set was very busy, and almost a tribute to all things Australiana (a windmill in the back of the set?!). The suggestion had been we weren’t going to get a carbon copy of the two commercial rivals and yet we still saw the hosts planted on a semi-circular couch, chatting (OK, so they had a large chest doubling as a coffee table). It was a set seeking life, and so the interaction with the crew was important, but that didn’t last long.

One of the more exciting moments was when Shaun Micallef paid a visit for a segment (I don’t recall him getting a return invitation after this):

It was, at best awkward. Very clear that Henry had asserted his position as alpha male and Robinson was to be his foil, while Roze more than capably delivered the weather and some other bits. What of Rochford? He seemed to be there as Paul’s minder; a man to keep the quick-mouthed Kiwi somewhat in check or at least provide distraction if and when he started to get off the rails. A tough job by any standard and it soon became obvious the first announced co-host was the proverbial third wheel – he was gone by June (followed closely by inaugural Executive Producer Majella Weimers). The show survived the end of June when the axe fell on The Circle though the morning changes meant they lost 30 minutes and had to include some incumbent infomercial contracts that could no longer play out in their previously arranged slots.

The set changed to the middle of the Ten Sydney Newsroom, sharing the spot with the Sydney News and the national Morning News (also the soon to be re-enabled Late News). Henry & Robinson were behind a desk & guests joined them to discuss the topics of the day. The ratings never peaked above that day one figure. Despite the word that Ten Network Holdings Limited Chairman Lachlan Murdoch – the man responsible for courting Henry in the first place – had given the program 10 years to settle in things only looked dark for the ailing program.

People. Weren’t. Watching.

Come late October and with great smiles and celebration a struggling Ten launched it’s 2013 schedule, and there was Breakfast still sitting in pride of place. Ch10 CEO James Warburton and newly appointed Chief Programming Officer Beverley McGarvey regaled all with their plans for the new year and, even though it never made the press release, Breakfast was the daily launch pad for the “Smart, Different, Authentic” schedule that would see you drawn to the network and stick with it into primetime and back round again.

20 days later the news was in. As a part of the rationalisation of the Network’s News resources and the redundancies/sackings doing the rounds, both Ten’s Morning News and Breakfast would cease production on 30 November 2012. 281 days after the first episode went to air, Ten Breakfast was gone. Not exactly 10 years, eh?

Many point the finger squarely at the controversial New Zealander host as being too caustic/opinionated/abrasive/unlikeable. No question he said some pretty outrageous things, but who wants to watch a breakfast television show where the hosts are beige? The question of the lack of chemistry between Henry & Robinson was raised regularly though I found them to be charming, authentic personalities on and off the screen and particularly the central two happily connected with each other.

The reporting regulars in Jonathan Lea (BNE), Melinda Nucifora (SYD), Ben Lewis (MEL), Joe Hill (ADL) & Brett Mason (UK) all delivered exactly what Ten are known for – edgy, young & at times risky stories that reflected their beat. They were professional and raw, and were willing to g all lengths to engage and connect (one going as far as have one of them throw open their home to discuss their decor on a slower news day). When you don’t have a roving weather girl, your local cap city reporter have to suffice. The production team worked hard to deliver high-quality regular guests and spots that tried offer a point of difference to the rice-bubble-and-corn-flake-TV you could get on their rivals.

The Australian television industry lives and dies by the OzTAM-edged sword. Ratings are everything. Given how quickly Ch10 have been this year alone to pull shows off air it’s a surprise Breakfast made it to the end of the ratings year. A cancellation in June would have been considered a mercy killing even then. The Network persisted with what had sadly become an industry punchline and a lot of good people have been damaged along the way.

Channel 10’s Breakfast tried real hard. Many good people put their best into it, even though (as some have suggested) it was deeply flawed from the start. There’s promises from the Network that the show will return in some format mid-2013 and rumours persist that The Circle will be reanimated and converted into the brekky timeslot – on a very short leash, one would imagine. More thought is required before any replacement is given a go.

Congratulations to those involved with Breakfast that gave it their best. This commentator will, indeed, miss you and your plucky little show. It wasn’t as bad as everyone says it was… it just wasn’t as good as it needed to be.