Steering the ship at Seven’s The Morning Show as it celebrates its tenth birthday in mid-June is executive producer Sarah Stinson. She wasn’t there at launch, but Stinson has been running the show for seven years.
The Morning Show was launched by Adam Boland, who was tasked with launching a program that could run off the back of Sunrise and could be peppered with revenue-generating advertorials.
Boland appointed current Sunrise EP Michael Pell as the initial Morning Show EP and in those early days Pell even had his own segment called Office Gossip.
Stinson was working at Today Tonight at the time as chief-of-staff, leaving the world of cutthroat primetime current affairs to a sleepier morning slot that would soon become more competitive as Nine and TEN launched products up against The Morning Show.
Stinson told Mediaweek she has never had a segment on her own program. “The chances of me doing that are very slim. I am very happy to sit in a dark production booth or my office and I have no aspirations to appear on camera.”
Stinson said she does like the idea of a multidimensional TV program with no barriers as audiences get to see behind the scenes. Giving The Morning Show viewers a peek behind the scenes is Rod, the show’s professional greeter who is a former professional dancer.
There have been no major changes to the format over the years, but smaller evolutionary tweeks. There have been set changes though plus graphics overhauls. “Some of them better than others,” Stinson wryly observed.
Although the TV guides list The Morning Show running from 9am until 11.30am, the start time is a suggestion only. Stinson is relaxed about that, explaining when there are big news stories breaking, the most recent perhaps being the Manchester bombing, there is no point in having The Morning Show taking over. “Our lighter mix of the wacky, the absurd and advertorials are no replacement for rolling live news coverage of major events. People seek credible news sources like Seven in these days with fake news proliferation. When Sunrise extends, our team works behind the scenes helping produce that coverage as long as it stays on air.”
The Morning Show doesn’t share many resources with Sunrise, but it does with Stinson’s other baby, the more recently launched afternoon program The Daily Edition.
“Both Sunrise and The Morning Show need to have their own identities. We don’t regurgitate content and we want to be competitive.” That competitive streak comes from Stinson’s time on Today Tonight when there was a daily tussle that show had with Nine’s A Current Affair.
“We need to act first or not at all,” she added.
The pecking order for celebrity guests on TV seems to rank morning TV closer to the bottom than the top, something that doesn’t stop Stinson and her team pitching hard for guests. PRs pitching stories would start with perhaps Sunday Night and 60 Minutes, or even Australian Story if that suits the topic. Next would be other primetime programs like A Current Affair or The Project. Next would be breakfast shows Sunrise and Today, followed by The Morning Show and its timeslot competition.
When asked about competition for guests with Sunrise, Stinson correctly points out they are two completely different shows. “There are times when we would like people like Tom Cruise on the show, but realistically he is not going to do us.”
Viewers paying attention might have noticed a change to The Morning Show formula this year with fewer regulars talking about the news.
“We are a lot more guest-driven now rather than constant opinion. We might change that again, but we went through a phase of too much jury type opinion slots. Anyone can have opinions now via social media, so we have cut back except for a few of our regulars.
“I am more interested in chasing someone with an interesting backstory to tell rather than having a guest giving an opinion. We have even cut back on stunts. But these things change – in six months the whole show might be opinion-based!”
Reaching the audience on other platforms is important, with Stinson noting Facebook is where their audience is. “Twitter is more the broadcast industry, while we see Instagram as a doormat for our program.”
Sarah Stinson’s TV day
“There is no such thing as a normal day,” explained Stinson. Generally she is in the office by 7.30am and has a conference call on the commute to the office. Before she leaves home she has read the newspapers and checked news feeds and her correspondence. “I do that with my cup of tea after waking up. I am a news junkie and I love that part of the day.”
There seem to be endless meetings which can range from story ideas to human resources to budgets. Stinson prefers watching the show go out live on the television in her office upstairs to get a better idea of what the finished product is looking like.
“The minute the show finishes we have our 11.30am production meeting to talk about the next day. Each producer will pitch the segments they are working on.” Then it is more meetings before it is into prep on Daily Edition.
A regular part of the program for much of the past decade has been infomercial presenter Glenn Wheeler. However, a horrific motor scooter accident in 2015 meant he’s been absent ever since.
“Glenn will always be part of our show,” said Stinson. “He visits occasionally now and he was integral when the show launched. He’s an amazing man. That has been by far the most challenging and confronting thing since I started at The Morning Show. It is still hard.”
Morning Show revenue
Stinson explained there are three parts to their content mix – editorial, integrated content and advertorial. Stinson and her team are involved in the first two, but have nothing to do with advertorials. “On the integrated content I work alongside sales. Is the program profitable? Yes, we are fully sold in terms of advertorials every day.” Stinson noted that some of the advertorial partners who have used the program over the past decade have built significant businesses from those ads.
Morning Show ratings
Stinson is reluctant to brag about ratings performances. “The second someone starts tweeting, or talking, about the ratings, the next day they lose. I have seen that so many times, so we don’t crow about that too much.” What she will say is that The Morning Show has been the #1 morning program since it launched 10 years ago.
Programs have come and gone across the years – TEN’s The Circle came and went and was replaced by Studio 10. On Nine Kerri-Anne Kennerley came and went and now Nine has Today Extra.
“We are currently the clear market leader,” said Stinson, breaking one of her rules.
What seems to have happened though is that the gap between Seven and Nine has closed in recent times, with Seven narrowly ahead of Today Extra. In week 23 The Morning Show was on 238,000 metro and regional viewers with Today Extra on 200,000.
Morning Show hosts
Stinson: “When people ask why has our program lasted so long, it is because our hosts are so authentic. The audience never has to wonder what each of them might think.
“They work very well together most days, but on some they seem to be singing from completely different hymn books.
“Kylie Gillies is very studious, she’s a journalist and she’ll prepare for everything.
“Larry Emdur will turn up just before the show starts and quickly read over the notes. I always say to him, ‘When in doubt read the brief.’
“They both have an amazing comedic quality. Kylie is very funny. And they are both very naughty…
“It can be like having two children and sometimes they will gang up if they disagree with something.
“I am so proud of them, on some days. On others it is like, oh gosh!”
Despite the differences of opinion, Stinson said she had never had a serious disagreement with her hosts. “I say that with my hand on my heart.”
Stinson’s mantra on the show, which she often repeats, is raise, resolve and move on. “If there is a day on air that hasn’t worked or been flat, straight after the show we talk about it. I might suggest what could have been done better and we manage to resolve it very quickly.”
Self-criticism is important on the program. “We all have to be tough markers. After our recent week at Disneyland I wrote down all the things I could have done better.
“The second you start thinking you are amazing and have nothing to learn you trip up.”