NADINE DORRIES: As a powerful woman, Holly Willoughby’s protestations that she knew nothing about Phillip Schofield’s affair sound more hollow by the day
When I was approached to host my own TV programme, a producer friend suggested I watch The Morning Show, a hit series starring Jennifer Aniston as a news anchor.
The behind-the-scenes look at a fictional, New York-based daily breakfast show would give me an understanding of how such programmes are made, my friend said.
It was good advice. It was also good television. I was gripped, binge-watching every episode. And, as the Phillip Schofield saga played out this past week, I was reminded of one in particular.
The series kicks off with breaking news: Aniston’s co-anchor, Mitch Kessler, is caught up in a #MeToo scandal. It’s a familiar story. A dominant man using his position as a powerful and trusted figure in order to exploit, in this case, junior staff desperate to progress their careers in a fiercely competitive industry.
Chaos ensues, and both the ratings and the network’s share price plummet.
The saga over This Morning continued to play out this week, as Holly Willoughy (left) claimed Phillip Schofield (right) assured her he was not having an affair with a much younger male colleague when she confronted him
Rise and shine! Jennifer Aniston (left) and Reese Witherspoon (right) star in The Morning Show
Kessler protests his innocence, despite the evidence against him — and then tries to take everyone down with him.
READ MORE: ‘IF I’M STILL GETTING AWAY WITH IT, I’LL BE A HAPPY MAN,’ SCHOFIELD TOLD YOUNGER LOVER
In episode 3, Aniston’s character — Alex Levy — wants to interview one of Kessler’s victims live on the show. Her bosses, desperate to limit further damage to the network, insist the victim is unreliable and can only have a short segment.
During the heated discussion that follows, there is, bizarrely and for no apparent reason, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it clip of Phil and Holly in action on one of the giant studio screens in the background. (The British sofa duo were so delighted with their five-second appearance that they noted it on their own show.)
Was that clip in that context purely co-incidental? Probably . . . But at the time I wondered how likely it was that a real U.S. TV station would be running a feed of a mid-morning, British magazine show such as This Morning.
If I was given to conspiracy theories, I’d be thinking there was a subliminal message there: a nod to the fact that Phillip Schofield’s conduct was one of the best-kept secrets in showbusiness.
Now everyone knows about his relationship — while still married to wife Stephanie — with a much younger male colleague; an individual who was a teenager when they met.
And we know Phillip lied about the affair to colleagues, including his ‘rock’ and co-host Holly Willoughby, his bosses, agents and lawyers. ITV is engulfed in crisis as a result.
The broadcaster insists This Morning will continue (even as advertisers race for the door) and that it will survive the loss of Schofield — the star they built up over many years and protected — and the current scandal.
They may be right, but the real question is, should it?
Phillip Schofield’s conduct was one of the best-kept secrets in showbusiness
ITV is a free-to-air public service broadcaster and therefore accountable. Its executives don’t have the authority to ride roughshod over public opinion or to set their own standards of behaviour or rules.
Yet after Phillip Schofield stood down from This Morning last week, the programme’s editor, Martin Frizell — the man who, it is claimed, would ‘clear up’ Schofield’s messes over the years — decided the star’s huge framed portrait should remain in place in the reception area as a mark of respect.
If nothing else, that is surely a demonstration of a refusal to acknowledge the toxic culture that prevailed. (His decision was reversed and the portrait removed on Sunday.)
I have, on these pages, described witnessing bullying behaviour during my appearances on the show. Now, Dr Ranj Singh, who was a contributor for more than a decade, has provided further evidence and says that, after complaining, he found himself ‘managed out’.
In the Mail yesterday, Dianne Nelmes, the editor who launched This Morning in 1988, said the show should be allowed to ‘die with dignity’. But if it survives, she believes Holly should lose her sofa spot because she is a part of the ‘shipwreck’. Her long-standing friendship with Schofield will always be an uncomfortable reminder to viewers of what took place.
I have to agree. I’ve spoken to people who worked on This Morning and have known for years about Schofield’s behaviour but were too fearful to speak out.
As a powerful woman, Holly’s protestations that she knew nothing sound more hollow by the day.
More heads need to roll before ITV and This Morning can hope to redeem themselves.
In that scene from The Morning Show, with the shot of Phil and Holly in the background, Aniston’s character tells her bosses: ‘This is about us, this is about our show and how we will be judged by the public.’
It’s time for ITV to take note — and for real life to mirror art.
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