According to a leading British media executive, only a deceived person would start a new TV news channel in the UK. The huge costs of setting up an outlet from scratch meant it was ‘not commercially viable’ – and the future lay more in streaming services than traditional live channels .
That person was Rebekah Brooks, the boss of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, speaking in April 2021 as she scrapped her company’s TV broadcast plans. Exactly a year later, after a quick about-face, she’s overseeing next week’s launch of talkTV, a new national channel run by Piers Morgan that could define her time at the helm of the company.
Early Tuesday morning, Brooks will receive the first notes that will reveal whether the bet to build a national outlet around Morgan’s cultural mandates has paid off. The first episode of Piers Morgan Uncensored – featuring an interview with former US President Donald Trump – has already attracted global coverage, with Morgan reveling in a concocted row over the misleading editing of a promotional clip.
Other big-name guests are promised, aided by the channel’s willingness – unlike most other UK news programs – to offer hefty appearance fees to secure in-demand guests. Staff talk of £20,000 a week available to persuade big names to appear, although a spokesperson insisted there was no set sum – and Trump was not paid to appear. The first edition of the show is nailed to beat other UK news channels, which are struggling to attract a few hundred thousand viewers in the same 8pm timeslot – but it’s less clear that this may be maintained for weeks. Despite the budget, Caitlyn Jenner, who was due to appear on the show to discuss another of the presenter’s favorite topics, transgender rights, has already pulled out.
The confluence of events that led to the creation of talkTV involves the pandemic, Meghan Markle and GB News. The founders of the UK’s other right-wing TV station initially tried to involve Murdoch in their project, only for him to turn them down.
Kelvin MacKenzie, the former Sun editor and mentor to Brooks and Morgan, said Murdoch had always been reluctant to associate with outsiders. “He told me once, ‘never share’.”
Still, the coronavirus lockdown has meant Murdoch has spent some unusual time in the UK at his Oxfordshire mansion, accompanied by his wife, Jerry Hall. It allowed him to happily watch the crash of GB News last summer – and observe the media circus as Morgan left ITV’s Good Morning Britain after refusing to apologize for comments about the mental health of Markle. Within months, the abandoned News UK TV project was rebooted around Morgan, with the presenter signing a three-year deal worth up to £50m, with the cost split across almost every arm of Murdoch’s empire.
As a result, the channel to launch on Monday is a Frankenstein monster of modern media, created by combining an existing radio station with three hours of new TV programming. Most of the television channel’s output will consist of video broadcasts from the existing talkRadio station, which has built up a small but loyal audience of 540,000 weekly listeners.
The evening program includes Morgan’s flagship 8pm show, sandwiched between a warm-up political debate hosted by former Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn and a celebrity talk show similar to Loose Women , hosted by Sharon Osbourne.
MacKenzie, who picked up her phone while pouring concrete down rabbit holes in her backyard, predicted that Morgan’s show will “work 101%” as long as it sticks to bashing woke politics and sticking to it. keep away from new policies. He said the political discussion was an obstacle for most viewers, suggesting the 7 p.m. show hosted by Newton Dunn faced difficulties: “I don’t think he has a prayer. GB News has shown how difficult it is to attract an audience with politics. It’s just an impossible thing.
TalkTV insiders describe a rigorous rehearsal process overseen by staff hired by Morgan’s Good Morning Britain team and aided by the approximately 100 staff who have been recruited to work on the project. A key issue was making sure it didn’t support the disastrous technical issues that made GB News a laughing stock at launch. Several new staff members privately said they were surprised by the money on offer, while other TV personalities used the talkTV interest to boost their salaries.
Not everything went as planned. A daily comedy show, scheduled for a 10 p.m. slot, failed to launch despite endless piloting. Sources said Johnny Vaughan, Jeremy Kyle and former Sunday Times reporter Grant Tucker have been tested as hosts of the show – but despite hiring staff specifically to work there, he is not considered ready for launch.
The influence of Fox News – which will carry Morgan’s show in the United States on its Fox Nation streaming service – is not mentioned in the promotional material. However, he is present behind the scenes, with management telling staff that “friends of Fox” have helped talkTV with everything from set design to ideas for putting together news packages. Times reporters have also been uncomfortable being implored to appear as guests on a channel that many fear is low-end.
One of the challenges for News UK could be whether rival tabloids in the business are willing to give Morgan the publicity he needs to make his act work. Until recently, Morgan was at the heart of MailOnline’s offering, with her every word written as breaking news on one of the biggest celebrity news sites in the world. Yet when the row with Trump went public on Thursday, MailOnline ran a single critical story about Morgan in the middle of its homepage under a promotional article about electric toothbrushes.
News UK declined to provide an interview to anyone for this story while Morgan, who uses his 8 million Twitter followers to pick headline-generating fights, responded to the interview suggestion saying that the Guardian was guilty of nullifying culture.