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High salaries 'alienating viewers'
Former TV-am host Nick Owen has warned that viewers are put off ITV's ailing breakfast programmes because of how much their big-name presenters are said to be paid.
Strictly Come Dancing star Susanna Reid, 43, announced last month that she was defecting from BBC Breakfast to front ITV's new breakfast show Good Morning Britain, in a reported £1 million deal.
The show replaces Daybreak, whose launch presenters Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley were dropped, despite their bumper pay packets, a little over a year after the programme first went on air.
But Nick, who helped turn around TV-am's fortunes in the early 1980s, told Radio Times magazine: "I joined TV-am (GMTV's predecessor) after a raft of big names had failed - David Frost, Michael Parkinson, Anna Ford, Angela Rippon... they'd not caught on with the viewers at all.
"They'd been turned down by Terry Wogan and Michael Aspel, so I was filling in until they could find someone, basically. But because no-one was watching, we could try things out. They hired Anne Diamond at my suggestion and we had a boy-and-girl-next-door thing."
The presenter added: "I think all these announcements about high salaries alienate viewers. Here's someone on a million pounds - you will enjoy them! Who can relate to a presenter like that?"
ITV, which has been attempting to compete against BBC Breakfast since Daybreak launched, with much fanfare, in 2010, has not confirmed how much it is paying Susanna, who will be joined by former GMTV star Ben Shephard, Charlotte Hawkins and Sean Fletcher on Good Morning Britain.
Former GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips, who left the show in 2008, said that presenters must reflect their audience.
"Eamonn Holmes and I - you can't manufacture that sort of chemistry," she said. "We'd both come from the same backgrounds as the viewers - our parents had worked hard, we had worked hard up through the ranks to get there. We weren't out at premieres living the glamorous life. People don't want to see that in the morning - they can't relate.
"We'd talk about our lives, what we were doing after the show, a row with our partner... things that people can identify with. That's all the more important on commercial television these days. You have to keep people coming back after the break, and the breaks are longer than ever."
Susanna, who split from her long-term partner Dominic Cotton in February, told the magazine that she would bring her experience of life to the new programme.
"At the age of 43, I have got three children and I have been a journalist for more than 20 years, so I hope I know a few things about quite a lot of stuff," she said. "Of course, I will bring this side of me to the programme; as a journalist, you bring all of your experience."
She said of the programme's forthcoming launch: "I don't dread anything. Even the early morning alarm clock. When you have done Strictly Come Dancing live on a Saturday night in front of millions... I'll never be that nervous again."
Susanna insisted that she was not nervous about how the new show would be received, telling the magazine that if viewers had negative feedback she wanted to hear it.
" I want to know what people are thinking - I want them to email in, especially if they're not thinking positive things," she said.
"And audiences are really keen about emailing in and telling you. You get used to that. I love it; people engaging with what you do is what you want as a broadcaster."
But experts warned that presenters cannot change programmes alone, with f ormer BBC director-general Greg Dyke, who helped save TV-am with Roland Rat, telling the magazine: "Television is all about content. Average presenters can be fine if the content is good. Very good presenters die if the content is rubbish."
Jon Thoday, managing director of management company Avalon, which has Adrian Chiles on its books, added: "The problem with ITV breakfast is that you've got the same people behind the camera now as you've had for years.
"You can't change a show by changing the presenters if the team making the show doesn't change - they'll be producing the same show, just with different faces. In all other areas of TV, if you're making a new show you get the best people available and you make a pilot to try things out. You can change the bits that don't work and no one sees the stuff that doesn't.
"With breakfast, it's the opposite - you've got the majority of the production team who have been getting up at 3am for the past 10 years, you announce the new presenter with a fanfare so the press is watching, then you put them on and try things out in the full gaze of the press and public.
"It's like trying to steer a supertanker - if a bit isn't working, you have to check why it's not working, maybe get a new director, make adjustments... and all of that is on screen. However talented the new presenters are, their success is dependent on someone solving these problems."
An ITV source said: "ITV are thrilled to have Susanna as part of the new Good Morning Britain team but the idea that she is being paid a salary in the region of one million is completely untrue. It is far off this."
It is thought the presenter is being paid less than many of the main hosts of GMTV received.