Media: Big trouble for breakfast

These days more people watch re-runs of Top Cat than tune in to The Big Breakfast, whose ratings have been declining since the glory days of Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin. Can they ever get the chemistry right again?

Kelly has problems with her pronunciation, according to an internal memo. There's no chemistry between Ms Brook and her fellow Big Breakfast presenter Johnny Vaughan, says the News of the World. Johnny now wants to present programmes that don't involve him reaching for the alarm clock at three in the morning, The Guardian says. Now, Gail Porter is lined up to replace Brook, according to the News of the World, The Mirror and the magazine Heat. The Big Breakfast, in short, appears to be in deep trouble.

The fact is that fewer people tune into a week's worth of The Big Breakfast than into a single episode of Countdown - about a million fewer, in fact. The programme is even outperformed by re-runs of the cartoon Top Cat. It takes The Big Breakfast about a year to attract the same number of viewers that Coronation Street can rack up in a fortnight.

But bizarrely, all that doesn't matter too much. For all its lack of ratings substance, the fact remains that for Channel 4, for the programme's maker Planet 24, The Big Breakfast remains a very important programme indeed.

It will account for around 5 per cent of Channel 4's entire pounds 600m advertising revenue this year, or around pounds 30m. Only Brookside among Channel 4 programmes will speak for more. That puts it above Friends, above Frasier, and way above Countdown in the Channel 4 hierarchy. And this for a show that has seen its viewer numbers more than halve over the past four years.

Of course, you really should have seen it back then in the good old days. According to a poll of London's finest ad agencies, The Big Breakfast at its Gaby Roslin and Chris Evans-inspired peak was directly responsible for pulling in almost 15 per cent of Channel 4's total advertising revenue - in 1995, for instance, when the show's yearly average ratings were 900,000, that would have meant something like pounds 65m. The incredibly young audience which tunes into The Big Breakfast is gold dust to admen. But then this year's pounds 30m is still a tidy piece of change and, for a programme that costs roughly pounds 20,000 an hour to make, makes those two morning hours suddenly look like a pretty useful bit of air time.

The fact is that even today The Big Breakfast still punches considerably above its official ratings weight. If lots of people watch it in the morning, the ratings for the rest of the channel's programmes go up.

As a show, it's also important to Planet 24. The company had a rocky patch with Channel 4 after The Word was taken off the air in 1994, and The Big Breakfast was largely responsible for maintaining the merest semblance of a relationship. It was also the main reason that Carlton TV was prepared to pay pounds 15m for the company earlier this year. Chris Evans's Ginger Productions had already walked away from any possible deal, citing the top-heavy position that the programme holds in Planet 24's overall portfolio, earning the company pounds 20m a year and being singlehandedly responsible for more than three-quarters of the 600 hours of network programming it supplies each year.

According to one of Planet 24's founders, Bob Geldof, The Big Breakfast goes even further than that. It also supplies the clearest impression of what Planet 24 is all about. And what Planet 24 is about, the Live Aid legend points out, is "managing to shift the way television looked so that nowadays our screens are awash with Planet 24 wannabe programming".

Unfortunately, that's now the real problem. The Big Breakfast is never, it seems, going to recapture the glory days that attended its launch.

"The huge advantage The Big Breakfast enjoyed when it launched was that people had no expectations of it. It replaced Channel 4 Daily, and you could have fitted the audience for that in my office," says Ian Lewis, head of broadcast evaluation at the media agency Zenith. "And here suddenly was this show that wasn't doing what most successful shows do - which is converting the audience from the other channels - but which was affecting a whole lifestyle change in viewers, and bringing on board people who had never thought of watching TV in the mornings. But once the novelty wore off and Evans left it has become increasingly clear that The Big Breakfast lives or dies on the chemistry of its two main presenters."

Whatever this chemistry consists of, Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin certainly had it. Chris's cheeky chappie persona played off against Gaby's giggling girl-next-door in a quite spectacular way. The set's primary colours and the non-stop lurid and lunatic games were a revelation to us in those far-off days, bored as we were by the GMTV sofa. Chris and Gaby became household names. When they were really at the top of their game, The Big Breakfast was picking up 30 per cent of the total breakfast-time TV audience with viewing figures peaking above a million.

After Chris left, things never really reached those heights again. Mark Little, Zoe Ball, Keith Chegwin, Julia Carling, Richard Orford and even Vanessa Feltz came and went and the ratings just ebbed away. The nadir came in the summer of 1997, when Rick Adams and Sharron Davies were presenting, and the show wallowed in a ratings slough just north of 300,000.

This was very, very bad. "What people forget is that ratings on The Big Breakfast have been falling practically since its launch," explains Lewis. "They even started to fall when Evans was there. For all the relaunches, all the new faces, it was only when Johnny and Denise were together last year that this trend was reversed."

Between them, it certainly seemed that Johnny Vaughan and his sidekick Denise Van Outen had saved the programme. They updated the Evans and Roslin show for an ever smuttier generation. Their on-screen flirtations kept us on the edge of our seats for months. They secured the programme more than half a million viewers. And that's not ordinary common or garden viewers, that's Big Breakfast viewers. The average Big Breakfast viewer watches for just 16 minutes while the show is on for two hours, so you have to multiply the number of viewers by eight to get a true picture of the numbers who actually watch.

Indeed, everything was going swimmingly until, in November last year, Denise announced she was off. Dark rumours suggested that Johnny Vaughan had secured a pounds 500,000 a year deal until the end of 2000 while Denise was only offered two-thirds of that, and had departed in a fit of pique. Whatever the reason, she left after Christmas. Suddenly Planet 24 desperately needed to create a little more on-screen magic. And it's still trying.

"It's never pleasant to watch a media vehicle go into terminal decline but there's little doubt that The Big Breakfast is much more important to Planet 24 these days than it ever is to advertisers," says David Cuff, broadcast director at Initiative Media, the Persil-to-Peperami media agency that is an important breakfast-time player. "The Big Breakfast really needs an extraordinary presenting team to work, and there aren't that many Chris Evans or Johnny Vaughans around. Or not that are willing to get up at three in the morning, anyway."

If Planet 24 does remove Brook, and if Vaughan does at some point leave, no matter how arduous the search for their replacements, the portents are poor. After all, Brook was herself the product of the sort of exhaustive search process that would put Special Branch to shame. More than 500 women and their agents contacted the production company when Van Outen left. From Caprice and Gail Porter to Donna Air and down through the ranks of former Miss Irelands and Capital Radio weather girls, all made enquiries. Planet 24 decided to go through every single one, working on the principle that leaving out even one unknown could mean they missed the next Denise - herself a nobody when she started as a weather girl.

Unfortunately it hasn't seemed to work. Not yet anyway, and perhaps it never will. But that doesn't mean the media's favourite breakfast-time soap opera isn't important. It is, if only for old time's sake.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future