While even he concedes 100 episodes is not a lot for a show that airs 5 days a week, TEN’s new morning show is grateful to have reached triple figures when it is well known the ratings figures have been, and continue to be, an uphill battle.
Understandably, McKnight focusses on the positives rather than the negatives.
“Obviously we have a long way to go on the ratings. I’m the first to acknowledge that. But the signs are good. The word of mouth has been extraordinary and the reception I’ve received from the other networks has been overwhelming as well,” he says.
“People had said it’s a terrific show and we just need to hang in there.”
Studio 10 represents TEN’s return to morning television last November, after the axing of The Circle and 9AM with David and Kim before it. Against the ‘unbeatable’ Morning Show on Seven and Nine’s Mornings it’s a big ask.
TEN hired respected industry veteran Ita Buttrose, added Jessica Rowe, Sarah Harris and ‘wildcard’ Joe Hildebrand to lead its chat show. A fifth chair at the desk allows for a daily guest to bring some spontaneity and the show also features a studio audience.
On occasions the show has managed to get a few breaking news stories to air before its competitors.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done with breaking news and I think it’s unexpected how we’ve covered it. We’ve gone very newsy on those occasions. On the day Mandela died we started off with a naked Jono Coleman running around the studio and 15 minutes later we had to break into Mandela,” he explains.
“We went commercial free, live around the country until about11:00 because the network said ‘We’re making a commitment.’ So while the others went to tennis or cricket or whatever they did, little old Channel TEN was here delivering breaking news.
“When Schapelle Corby was released we were the first to go to the scene.”
McKnight maintains its direct morning competitors on Seven and Nine frequently defer to their news departments on such occasions, while Studio 10 remains on air.
“With breaking news Nine and Seven cancel their morning shows immediately and get the news teams to cover it. But with TEN there is such a faith in what we can deliver as a news show that they not only keep us on air, they extend our coverage,” he says.
“I know there is some overlap (with Sunrise) but they don’t keep Larry and Kylie on when there is breaking news.
“Or if it happens early enough they will keep Sunrise on.”
Studio 10 claims it covered Derryn Hinch’s release from air before its competitors, despite Hinch being a Seven personality.
Not everything has gone to plan. Transporting Ita Buttrose , 72, from Manly to Pyrmont by boat on air was a disaster. McKnight promises it will make a re-appearance in the 100th edition.
“The day I almost lost Ita Buttrose at sea was week two!” he laughs.
“It’s given her plenty of fodder and anytime I want her to do something she doesn’t want to do, the boat might come up.
“But Ita will fight for this show until the very end. She’s that dedicated to it, it blows me away.
“There are people in this industry, a lot younger, who could learn a thing or two from Ita Buttrose: the way you handle yourself, the way you work hard and the way you fight. She is an inspiration to everyone.”
Another widely-acknowledged positive has been the poaching of Sarah Harris from Nine.
TEN’s new head of news and current affairs, Peter Meakin, has been a vocal supporter of Harris and the show in general.
“Peter loves Studio 10. I’ve not had one note about any changes to Studio 10 from him,” McKnight claims.
“He loves the whole team but I think he’s very impressed that we got Sarah and I’m really proud of that appointment too. I’m pleased I could make it happen, that she came and that everyone has seen the potential of what she can do.
“Sometimes you don’t realise what you’ve got until you lose it. Channel Nine has been able to see what Sarah is really capable of.”
But as it reaches 100 episodes the tough question is whether the show is making advances on its audience.
“The original hope was that Wake Up would give us a bigger lead in and we would hold onto the audience and that would give us an advantage. Obviously things have changed, and that’s not the case.
“But we’re actually defying the trend in morning television.
“If you look at The Morning Show and Mornings in the minute-by-minute (ratings) they take a dive. And all through their show they go down, down, down.
“Studio 10 lifts. We are the only morning show that picks up audience during the show. There are days where we not only touch Mornings, we overlap them too.
“That suggests we are doing something right, but we need to get more audience across.”
Indeed Wake Up‘s woes impacted on both his show and his workload. McKnight had to run two shows when Adam Boland took ill.
“It’s been tough and obviously not what we expected the last few months to be. I came to TEN because a friend and colleague and a guy I really respect had a vision. But during that time he got sick,” he says.
“There’s been a lot of crap based on Wake Up that I think of Bolo had been healthy would have seen it through to be a terrific show.
“I still believe if he had a healthy mind to run the show the way it should have been run it would have been a much different show.
“It was his decision (to go). Let me tell you TEN tried to keep him on board. But he knew he had to go for himself and the show and I think it was the right decision.
“They needed someone with a clear, strong vision and they’ve got that with Steve (Wood) now.”
Being asked to produce two shows, while he still producing his first, could not have come at a worse time.
“I had a daughter who had heart surgery in the week before we launched. It was really tough. Then on Day 2 of our shows being on air my good friend falls down,” he recalls.
“I don’t think it was ratings or the critical response to Wake Up. I have no doubt that added to some of the pressure. But when I look back in hindsight he was looking tired and trying to do so much of it himself.
“The day that he couldn’t come back to work it took 5 senior producers to put that show to air.
“It was a lot of hours. I have 3 young girls at home that need attention, and my wife was having to do all of that. I had a 16 month old recovering from heart surgery. So it placed a lot of pressure on me and my home life. I’m not going to lie.
“It wasn’t sustainable and I was so pleased when Bolo came back. But in hindsight he should have taken 6 months off, recovered and then come back.”
McKnight has also spoken on the topic for Australian Story‘s Monday episode.
Studio 10 can perhaps also lay claim to the emerging changes to live news reporting into the Perth market during morning commercial television.
When the show wraps at 11am in Sydney the cast remain on set to present live segments into Perth from 11:30am AEDT with updated and local content.
“I have a big problem with news-based programmes being 2-3 hours old when they hit that market,” says McKnight.
“It’s not ‘this happened 2 hours ago’ especially in this day of the internet when you wake up, get online, see the headline and watching the morning news but you’re not seeing any of it.”
Without resting on the modest laurels of 100 episodes, McKnight is still tweaking the format and hints that the final half hour, packaged as Studio YOU may be jettisoned.
“It was meant to be a different show with a different focus about health, beauty and well-being. But I’m going to put my hand up and say I don’t think we’ve really lived up to the brief of Studio YOU and I’m actually thinking of dropping it and running Studio 10 all the way through.
“I just don’t think we as a production team have hit those segments correctly,” he admits.
“In the next couple of weeks I will make the final decision on whether to keep it.
“But if Studio YOU is the biggest mistake we’ve made then I’m happy.”
Studio 10 airs 8:30am weekdays on TEN.