Holly and Phil's fallout exposed TV's contempt for its viewers
Yes, we have more to worry about than Holly and Phil. But the pair’s toxic fallout has brutally exposed TV’s contempt for its viewers, writes GARETH ROBERTS
Like a binge-worthy boxset, the Phillip Schofield saga keeps serving up fresh turns and twists.
Every episode has new information, new angles – whether it is former colleagues such as Eamonn Holmes revelling in revealing their pent-up grievances, or Schofield martyring himself in interviews for the sins of ITV.
Now, even politicians are demanding extra juicy details. In the language of the modern media world, this story has ‘legs’.
I know many are fed up with the frenzy. At a time when the world faces a belligerent Russia, the march of humanoid robots, spiralling inflation and fears of another pandemic, this seems to be an apparently trivial tale of a presenter on a daytime TV show who has, it seems, done nothing illegal.
But look closer and the sorry saga is sharply revelatory about so many aspects of life.
Like a binge-worthy boxset, the Phillip Schofield saga keeps serving up fresh turns and twists. Every episode has new information, new angles – whether it is former colleagues such as Eamonn Holmes revelling in revealing their pent-up grievances , or Schofield martyring himself in interviews for the sins of ITV
An example of this was the way Piers Morgan (pictured) was defenestrated from his presenter’s job on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, claiming he had been cancelled by the ‘woke crowd’ – blaming Dame Carolyn McCall personally
First, there is our warped relationship with TV, and specifically with on-screen presenters.
It’s natural for us to be captivated by human dramas. I’ve worked in TV as a scriptwriter and on the production side for many years, so I know this all too well.
The exposure of hidden lusts and buried resentments, and sudden reversals of reputation, is compelling. The very fluffiness of ITV’s This Morning, with its competitions and cookery and elevenses ‘niceness’, gives an added element to the dish.
Everyone is hooked, no matter what they say.
MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee have summoned ITV’s chief executive, Dame Carolyn McCall, to appear for a grilling on what they call ‘a matter of the highest importance’. What actual business is it of theirs?
Of course, duty of care towards staff, particularly junior ones, should be taken seriously by all employers. But does this particular incident really require urgent, top-level scrutiny from MPs?
For all their lofty language, it’s hard to resist the suspicion that politicians simply want a piece of the rubbernecking action.
As for ITV, it seems that its management has got itself into this mess. Worse, the way that the channel’s bosses jumped headfirst into the quicksand is illustrative of a much bigger cultural problem that has affected all British television in the past decade or so: a separation from, and a disdain for, viewers.
The projection of the spotless, wipe-clean perfection of Schofield and his co-presenter Holly Willoughby was totally misguided from the start.
It meant that any slippage of their image – the giggly great mates, forever bursting into either laughter or tears – would be a disaster.
Other presenters in similar roles – Dermot and Alison, Eamonn and Ruth – feel like real human beings. But there was always something a little uncanny, a little too sickly sweet, about Phil ‘n’ Holly.
According to cynical ITV bosses, though, anything more than anodyne is too complex for viewers.
But the fact is that there is an uneasy contradiction between this saccharine surface and what is, in some areas of the television world, a seedy reality.
How piquant that the broadcast media, obsessed with ‘fake news’ and disinformation yet often positioning itself – ludicrously – as above all of that, has been exposed as peddling a myth to viewers.
READ MORE: This Morning editor Martin Frizell suggests outspoken ex-stars are taking revenge over Phillip Schofield scandal – as Chair of Culture committee accuses ITV of ‘lurching from one disaster to another’
The BBC has been particularly unctuous in this holier-than-thou regard, employing 60 journalists as part of the recent launch of its BBC Verify fact-checking operation.
Let’s not forget, this is the same BBC that not long ago repeatedly reported that Jewish students had hurled racial slurs at men in Central London, when the exact opposite was the case.
It is the same BBC which unthinkingly parrots the reality-bending ideology of extremists in the trans lobby who want to disrespect the rights of biological women, and which tries to pretend that modern Britain – quite likely the least racist society in human history – is full of bigots.
ITV, too, is now a punctiliously ‘progressive’ institution, dancing the jig of woke American academic ideas. But now the Schofield Affair has blown the flimsy dressing of TV – ‘You can’t trust other media, but you can trust us’ – out of the water.
With regard to trust, ITV bosses have serious questions to answer.
If, as they claim, they believed sincerely in 2020 that there was no hidden backstory, why was there any need for Schofield to urgently come out live on air?
Were ITV executives incurious about other possibilities?
What’s more, the company’s investigation into allegations about a relationship Schofield had with one of his show’s young runners seems to have been cursory to say the least, merely taking the two men’s word for it that there was nothing between them. Imagine if the police took this approach.
The cover-up just made the inevitable exposure even worse.
But it’s clear that ITV wanted to believe Schofield and protect its oh-so-valuable asset, the King of This Morning.
The irony is, as Eamonn Holmes has pointed out, that ratings for This Morning don’t go up or down whoever is on the sofa.
Ultimately, this is all symptomatic of the wider issue at ITV.
Up until fairly recently, the network had a peppery, earthy quality that was one of its strengths as a brand.
Staff had an exceptionally strong and accurate sense of who their viewers were, and a healthy respect for them. They didn’t view them as people who needed to be constantly told off for not subscribing to elite tastes.
The BBC has always been the broadcaster that was a little hoity-toity, patrician and self-important.
By contrast, ITV was like a roast dinner followed by a sponge pudding – maybe not terribly ‘good’ for you, but very satisfying.
But take out the sugar and the salt from that meal and all you’re left with is a big bucket of stodge.
An example of this was the way Piers Morgan was defenestrated from his presenter’s job on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, claiming he had been cancelled by the ‘woke crowd’ – blaming Dame Carolyn McCall personally.
Witness, too, ITV’s recent campaign to get everyone talking about their mental health.
Prime-time television is not social work. The job of everyone in TV is, above all, to make better shows. It should not be their mission to blither and impose their Californian corporate ‘social values’.
Whereas other aspects of Britain’s media – such as our newspapers – remain varied and distinct, TV is betraying its audience.
The occasional big hits aside, everything is gradually coagulating into a bland mush. Channels have lost their individual identities. The Schofield Affair is a microcosm of today’s television: a gleaming surface but a messy reality.
- Gareth Roberts is a television scriptwriter and novelist who has worked on Doctor Who and Coronation Street.
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