Media: They're serving the same thing for breakfast: That was TV-am; this is Good Morning. Owen Slot wonders if viewers will notice the difference

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The Independent Online
THE 14-month countdown has ticked away, and there are just nine days left. Nine days, that is, until TV-am is switched off and Good Morning Television finally says 'Good Morning' - until ITV's breakfast television audience will have seen the last of one presentation team and been introduced to another.

Except that Lorraine Kelly, who presented TV-am, will be presenting GMTV; that Michael Hastings, education correspondent of TV-am, will be Michael Hastings, political correspondent of GMTV; and that Hilary Jones, who talked health matters on TV-am, will be talking health on GMTV.

In fact, the set, style, sofas and smiles all look remarkably similar, too. So TV-am devotees need not worry about the change; instead they need merely brace themselves for their new cornflakes companion, Fiona Armstrong - oh, and the dark-haired, middle-aged, mustachioed presenter called Michael Morris is replaced by another of the same species called Michael Wilson.

GMTV has never pretended it would be anything but a close copy of TV-am. 'TV-am with a slice of lemon,' is how Lis Howell, head of programming at GMTV, describes it. Market research shows that TV-am got it right and GMTV wants to follow suit.

GMTV might not be embarking on an incredible journey into the unknown, but the staff are nevertheless excited about the launch on 1 January and the future that follows. On their three-and-a-bit floors of the London Television Centre on the South Bank there is a definite buzz; the Christmas break is an irritation.

Of the 185 employees who have been assembled during the past six months, only one has quit before the launch. They have been producing daily pilots since 2 November. 'There's a great feeling of optimism all round,' says Michael Wilson.

A few miles north of all this, at the TV-am building on Camden Lock, the contrast isn't hard to spot. The natural buzz of a news team departed when the team itself left in March and, as the staff has shrunk from 400 to 145 over the past 14 months, it is hardly surprising that the building has come to feel like a school shut for the holidays.

On the first floor, where TV-am's ethos has been created for the past 10 years, a small workforce huddles round a group of desks at one end of a huge open-plan room. And while Michael Wilson can talk about his 'great feeling of optimism', Mike Morris, the man whose air-time he will be occupying, says that 'the last year has quite definitely been the worst of my life'.

Keeping the programme going until next Thursday is no easy task. Only last week Kathy Tayler and Claire Rayner were in tears as they presented their last programmes. So where can the drive and inspiration come from when you're simply working out your notice?

'We're just ploughing on,' says Bill Ludford, head of programming. 'It'll be a relief when it's all over,' says Morris. 'Television runs on adrenalin, but we're working on an empty tank. Our energy levels have dipped, but for three hours and 25 minutes a day we try to retain some kind of energy and enthusiasm.'

Despite the effort, viewers have noticed the difference. TV- am's once regular audience of 2.5 million has dipped to 1.9 million, a slump for which Channel 4's The Big Breakfast is only partially responsible. But even 1.9 million, says Morris, is something to be proud of. 'We are still, in our dying days, the most popular breakfast programme.'

With no future to work for, TV-am's recent output has been a cost-cutting, profiteering affair. On screen, there are now three daily phone-in competitions which, with their 0898 numbers being called some 40,000 times a throw, pay for themselves.

Off screen, the programme works from a skeleton staff, its 24-hour cover is history and the editing suites of the empty offices in the building have been occupied by two radio stations. The early morning meeting place, which used to be the canteen, is now around a coffee machine: the canteen is closed. Most poignantly, if you look hard, you can still spot some of the 'Winning team for 1993' stickers that were spread around the building in the weeks leading up to the franchise announcement, in October 1991.

'There's a sort of buoyed-up feeling; we're drawing strength from adversity,' says Morris, who is one of a number without a job lined up. 'There's a certain amount of anger and resentment, but that's simmered now really.' What has left a bitter feeling for many, though, is that the company which has won the franchise is simply going to copy TV-am.

Back at GMTV, the lookalike is being fine-tuned. Gyles Brandreth, a former TV-am presenter, was a guest on a pilot last week and said: 'I think it could do rather well . . . It was just like the old days.'

To improve on TV-am's average of keeping viewers' attention for 20 minutes, market research has pointed to a three-pronged attack. Two are quality prongs - better children's programmes and a fresher feel to the whole show - and the third, most obvious addition is the inclusion of local news bulletins.

Quality initiatives aside, viewers will have to be brought round to GMTV faces. Pilot shows have demonstrated that viewers are doubtful about anything filling TV-am's slot successfully. Lis Howell is the first to acknowledge the task ahead: 'You've got to keep faith with the public who watch TV-am. Their attitude is 'Why are you taking my friends away from me?' '

(Photographs omitted)