REVIEW: TODAY (AUSTRALIA)

  • SHOW: Today (Australia) Nine Network
  • DATE: Monday, November 9, 2015, 8AM AEDT
  • ANCHORS: Karl Stefanovic, Lisa Wilkinson
  • NEWS READER: Sylvia Jeffreys
  • LIVE REPORTER:  Lauren Barker
  • SPORT: Tim Gilbert
  • WEATHER: Steven Jacobs
  • ENTERTAINMENT: Richard Wilkins
  • LIVE STREAM:  Here

11-8-2015 5-47-43 PM
My favorite morning show at the moment – the one burning on all cylinders – is the brilliant Today show – the national Nine Network morning show originating just outside of Sydney. Airing from 5:30AM to 9AM AEDT, the show is alive, vibrant, compelling, entertaining, informative, and totally watchable. That’s due to its excellent ensemble of characters led by hosts Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson who have been paired as hosts for seven years now. Sylvia Jeffreys presents most of the news coverage, Steven Jacobs does the weather, Tim Gilbert on Sport (note: not “sports”), and the flamboyant Entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins often joins the show from Los Angeles.

11-8-2015 5-48-06 PMI talk a lot about the importance of everyone being “in sync” on morning shows, and that’s why this show appears so effortless. The producers and the director, the newswriters and segment producers, the reporters and the studio crew are all on the same page and bringing their A-Game.  This particular show was a very typical episode – nothing special – but still fascinating to watch. There was no major breaking news – the big story being whether drivers over 50 in Australia should have a giant “S” on their license plate to signal other drivers that they’re older. It made for a lively debate between Karl and two on-set guests.

I’m guessing November is also a ratings period in Australia – the group gave away $80,000 (about $56,000 American 11-8-2015 5-53-43 PMdollars) “live” on the show. It was actually a really good segment, produced well, there was lots of drama, and there was a huge payoff when the woman who Lisa and Karl called from the studio knew the phrase “I wake up with Today”. There were cannons and confetti (OK, maybe not cannons) and unlike Kelly & Michael’s giveaways, which are just so-so, this was an event. In the final block, they tried to give away an additional $10,000 ($7,000 America dollars) but this time, no one answered the phone by the fifth ring! Too bad!  As a producer, the takeaway here for me was how they turned something rather ordinary into an event that was really compelling to watch.

11-8-2015 5-56-00 PMThe celebrity guest this hour was Rob Mills, a former Australian Idol winner and star of Ghost, the stage musical based on the Patrick Swayze film. Instead of a typical sit-down interview like most morning shows would set up, these guys had Lisa and Rob recreate the sexy pottery wheel scene where Demi Moore is stroking wet clay – with Karl singing Unchained Melody in the background. These guys were clearly warned beforehand to tone down any sexual innuendo as the process of pottery spinning and clay spattering is highly erotic – and these guys would definitely have gone way over the line if left to their own devices. Excellent way to promote a singer and his stage show with both Lisa and Karl very involved in the action. This is the right way to produce “celebrity plug” segments – get your hosts involved in some way other than merely asking a list of questions and showing a clip!

If you notice the set, Today built a perfect “kitchen table” desk that accommodates six people. As I’ve said a 11-8-2015 5-57-23 PM11-8-2015 5-56-19 PMthousand times, a morning show’s home base is its main desk, it’s “kitchen table”, and the whole family should hang out there. When guests come, they join everyone at the kitchen table. This desk with room for at least six is extremely versatile and let’s everyone easily get in on the action. The show uses several other sets as well, a monitor shot set for Sylvia when she reads the news (thumbs down) and a big half-circle couch area for lighter stuff that easily seats eight (thumbs down). While I’m not a fan of moving hosts from set to set, at least they’re using the half-couch approach which allows a lot of interaction between the hosts and the guest. They’ve also got a sort of library set (thumbs down). Not needed.

Sylvia Jeffreys
Sylvia Jeffreys
Georgie Gardner
Georgie Gardner

My one complaint in the way the show is directed is that Karl and Lisa are often relegated to 2-shots rather than cut-cut-cut close-ups following the conversation. The guys on either side of them always get close-ups, but Karl and Lisa end up stuck on a mounted 2-shot camera directly in front of them.  Also, I really miss newsreader Georgie Gardner, who recently left the show (not sure what the reason was). I loved Georgie. She was the original and perfect “side-kick” to Karl and Lisa and Nine Network should have offered her the world to keep her. Her replacement is great. Sylvia was put in a position very much like Cheryl Ladd – having to replace Farrah Fawcett-Majors on Charlie’s Angels, but no question, she’s doing an admiral job.

There are countless clips of the show on YouTube. Just search for “Today Australia”. Here’s one compilation of clips I pulled off YouTube for easy access:

A format like this on an American network is still years away. ABC, NBC and CBS could never allow a show this free-form and progressive to take off, and their management structure is just not set up to allow one vision to dominate the broadcast. But the show is a smash hit in Australia. I have spent many hours with these guys streaming their shenanigans! Solid news coverage, Good health, financial news, guest segments. Irreplaceable group of talent! A Well-Earned 10!

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