Breakfast television and the ratings race

March 14, 2021

Is it a lack of creativity or the race for ratings that is most to blame for this stale content?

The first morning show ever to be broadcast was The Today Show, first aired on NBC, in America in 1952. The idea was to produce an infotainment show that provided information and news along with some entertainment to the viewers. It led to a global trend. In 1964, Pakistan Television started live transmissions. In the beginning, the PTV only had five hours of evening programming, six days a week. It took another 24 years to produce its first morning show, Subha Bakhair. Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Chacha Jee to children in the audience, was the first morning show host in Pakistan’s television history. Subha Bakhair lasted for nearly seven years, basically following in the footsteps of Today. Watching Chacha Jee before leaving for school is one of the fondest memories of many from that generation. While morning television was not as glamorous as it is these days, content-wise it was solid.

In 2002, Gen Musharraf opened the door to private TV channels. Thanks to this action, the Pakistani audience got access to greater diversity in TV programming. The now-common format of morning shows started in 2006 on Geo, with Nadia khan as host. It was a breath of fresh air with a casual style of hosting for Pakistani viewers. Top-notch celebrities were included as guests. Informative conversations were conducted, along with interesting entertainment updates. Nadia Khan brought unprecedented energy to the TV screens. The Pakistani audience fell in love with this new mode of entertainment. Pakistani women finally had a voice on television. Soon, several TV channels had started their morning transmissions. Many of the celebrities who had once appeared as guests in these shows later started hosting their own morning shows. But then, things started going downhill.

Producing a live show, six days a week is not easy, particularly when it comes to quality content. The morning transmissions soon started copying from one another unapologetically.

Eventually, all our morning shows came to be stuck somewhere between The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Jerry Springer Show. The content became more un-original and repetitive by the day. From resolving family issues to televised marriage ceremonies, we have seen it all. I often wonder whether the producers are underestimating their audiences.

Currently, there are two types of morning shows airing on various channels. One falls in the infotainment category while the other is purely entertainment. Most entertainment channels that followed in Geo’s footsteps engaged female hosts for these breakfast shows. Their target demographic was primarily female audiences and retired individuals. The basic idea of the morning shows that air on entertainment channels is to keep these less serious and more entertaining.

Nowadays, Nida Yasir, Nadia Khan, Faisal Qureshi and Sahir Lodhi host morning shows on ARY, PTV Home, ARY Zindagi and TV One. The mainstream news channels have their own spate of morning shows, with Arooj Abbas hosting on Dawn News, Imran Hassan and Armala Hassan on Express News and Sidra Iqbal on Aaj News. All of these have more or less similar programming. There are segments on health, beauty, cooking and gossip, with celebrity interviews as the cherry on the top. If you watch the morning shows that air on news networks, their discussion is based more on current affairs but otherwise the format is similar.

In pre-Covid times, morning shows resembled a circus: there were marriage ceremonies and fashion shows involving lots of participants. Owing to the pandemic and the enforcement of Covid-safety SOPs, that circus has ended. Now, morning shows are far more subdued, though not much has changed content-wise. The viewers are being fed the same type of content over and over again. Is it a lack of creativity or the race for ratings that is most to blame for the stale content?

Nida Yasir’s show, Good Morning Pakistan, runs on ARY Digital. She left her acting career once she started working as a morning-show host. In the beginning, the programme was not bad, but it seems as though her production team has run out of ideas. In one episode, Nida showed off her shopping with great enthusiasm. She has also gotten into trouble for on-air blunders and some poor choice of words. Like some others, Good Morning Pakistan has had celebrated weddings, fashion weeks and advocated for cosmetic procedures,

The queen of morning shows, Nadia Khan is currently hosting Morning at Home on PTV Home. Her on-screen presence is energetic and the programming is fine. But there are moments during the show when a viewer may feel that Nadia Khan needs to let her guests talk more. Morning at Home is designed to compete with the programming on private channels but it operates within the limits for public television.

Sahir Lodhi, who is popularly known as Pakistan’s Shahrukh Khan, hosts Muskurati Morning on TV One. He has quite a fan following and likes to bring a lot of drama to his show, whether on TV or radio. His live singing performances are also interesting to watch.

Faysal Qureshi is a fine actor who has hosted Salam Zindagi on ARY Zindagi for quite some time. His show usually has good content and is less repetitive than some others. Faysal Qureshi connects with his audiences on a human level and without much drama, which makes for a refreshing change. Not many actors prove good hosts but Faysal Qureshi has done a good job so far.

Sidra Iqbal hosts Aaj Pakistan on Aaj TV. She has a strong on-screen presence. Her hosting style is graceful and her command of language is her strength. Hosting a show on a news channel has its limitations, especially when there are newsbreaks during a live show. Aaj Pakistan has good content but seems more like a current-affairs talk-show than a morning show.

Dawn News morning-show host Arooj Abbas is pleasant to watch. Her show Chai, Toast Aur Host is different in tone from the other morning shows. Her hosting style is conversational but she needs to work on her vocabulary.

These morning transmissions need a fresh take on programming and a more creative approach wouldn’t hurt. With the rise of digital media, viewers now have a lot more choices than they did in the past. Breakfast television is meant to be watched while starting our day. It would be great if these shows could provide us with entertainment along with some food for thought.

The writer is a veteran broadcast journalist and media professional

Breakfast television and the ratings race