As the race heats up in breakfast and morning television, one show that is quietly running its own race is TEN’s Studio 10.
Now into its third year on air, the show has survived while its more-famous lead-in Wake Up has not. Losing a lead-in show has made for a tougher battle for Studio 10 but according to its resident male panelist, Joe Hildebrand, it’s a fight with its own victories.
“If you’re putting on a new morning show on a network like TEN when you already have Seven & Nine slugging it out, it’s kind of like bringing a knife to a gunfight. It was always going to be a hard competition to crack into, but our numbers have grown enormously year on year,” he said.
“We sort of run our own race largely, and that’s the benefit of being the underdog, the little engine that could.
“We’re really happy with the way the show is going. It’s been a terrific start to the year with really good numbers and coming close to the other guys on a few days.”
Numbers-wise it’s difficult to make direct comparisons.
The Morning Show and Today Extra code from 9-11am with a separate figure for 11 – 11:30am. Studio 10 codes from 8:30 – 9:30 and then a separate figure from 9.30-11am. In the latter portion, Studio 10 is averaging 79,000 viewers in 2016 (Weeks 7-12), up 39% from 57,000 in 2015.
“The other morning shows have a massive lead-in from Today and Sunrise but then their numbers just drop off throughout the course of the morning, whereas we go in the other direction,” he continues.
“If you look at the minute by minutes, ours grow throughout the morning.”
“I’ve never really thought about my ‘brand.'”
Joining Ita Buttrose, Jessica Rowe, Sarah Harris, and more recently Denise Drysdale, Hildebrand swears he hasn’t mellowed as the presenter with XY chromosomes. If there’s been any mellowing at all, it is he show itself.
“I think the show has probably mellowed a bit,” he suggests. “At first it was probably harder, newsier and political. It was like a morning version of Q&A with Jonathan Coleman. As we get to know each other and listen to audience feedback, the show is more relaxed, cruisy and mellow,” he insists.
“I’ve always been a pretty relaxed and mellow kind of guy.
“It’s fair to say I’m not the greatest macho man in the world, so it’s not exactly a massive clash. It is pretty good fun stirring up the ladies once in a while.”
Hildebrand has been best known as a Daily Telegraph columnist, but he has also appeared on Q&A, other morning shows and fronted ABC2 docos Dumb Drunk and Racist and Shitsville Express. Has Studio 10 extended his brand?
“I’ve never really thought about my ‘brand,'” he replies.
“It feels weird even using the word. I just do what I do. There’s plenty of banal, boring and middle of the road television, in the world already. I don’t think there’s any point in adding to it.
“With the shows I made for ABC, or the things I say on Studio 10 now, I say things that are true, that I believe when we’re talking about difficult issues. I don’t dress them up or pretend they’re something they’re not.
“I don’t try to pretend problems aren’t real or disguise things in meaningless bureaucratic or politically-correct language. Because you see so little of that on TV these days, some people find that surprising or shocking.
“That’s another thing Studio 10 is really good at: all of us are up-front and honest on the show. We tell it like it is, which is something you don’t often see on television or at that time of day.”
“When TV royalty like Ding Dong comes along…you just think ‘We know nothing!’”
He is also full of praise for his co-presenters.
“Ita is enormously important to the show and I have just the most enormous respect for (her), but am obviously slightly terrified of. Like everyone else in the country either is or should be. She has a very formidable presence and very sharp mind. Her sense of humour is quite devilish and quite frankly sometimes dirty –which you would just never expect!” he laughs.
“Jessica Rowe I adore. She is the sweetest, most-lovely thing and I love stirring her up and getting her fired up. It’s like winding up a little mouse and watching it scurry across the floor. We obviously argue about politics all the time, but they’re not all that different actually. Sometimes it’s just me winding her up.”
Sarah Harris returns shortly, ending her maternity leave which saw Natarsha Belling as a regular.
“The show would be nothing without Sarah. She is the ultimate bus driver and is really sharp, funny and quick. She laughs at my jokes or slaps me around if I need it. We’re kind of like brother and sister,” he continues.
“Tarsha has been a legendary fill-in while Sarah has been away. Nobody needs to say anything about Tarsh that the world doesn’t already know. She’s brilliant and warm, and part of the family.”
Last year the show added the legendary Denise Drysdale in a ‘job-sharing’ arrangement with Ita Buttrose.
“Denise has been a revelation. Her coming on board has changed the whole vibe of the show, and brought a whole new audience,” he insists.
“When TV royalty like Ding Dong comes along and shows you how it’s done, without batting an eyelid, you just think ‘We know nothing!’ She’s possibly the funniest woman in Australia.”
Hildebrand agrees that Drysdale’s absence from the Logies Hall of Fame is a crime against TV humanity, and hopes it is rectified in coming weeks.
“Quite frankly I’m shocked and disappointed that she’s not there already.”
But he reserves special praise for go-to advertorials guy, Jonathan Coleman.
“The best kept secret, the real strength behind Studio 10 is of course Jono Coleman,” he declares.
“The producers are all just an elaborate ruse to cloak the true greatness of Jonathan Coleman. He is a force. And he’s standing right behind me.”
Hildebrand, who juggles Studio 10 with other commitments as opinion editor at the Daily Telegraph, remains so enamoured with the role that he will be there as long as the network wants.
“Don’t tell my bosses, but it’s a job I’d do for free. I’m lucky enough to get paid for it, so I’m rapt.”
Studio 10 airs 8:30am weekdays on TEN.