Reading BBC Breakfast as a Narrative of Positive News / by Emilia Morano-Williams

Forget exercise. I go to the gym to watch TV news. There are three TVs, each showing a different channel. Sky News balances five minutes of roundtable discussion with soulless ads for Sainsbury. ITV packages high street sales as infotainment. Then there’s my show: BBC Breakfast.

Broadcast simultaneously on BBC One and BBC News, this early morning news program oscillates between infotainment and reporting. The set is BBC red offset with bright white panels and a background projecting an un-British perennially sunny sunrise. In both appearance and tone, the effect is lighter than the archetypical BBC newsroom. Whereas standard TV reporting attempts to narrate events moment-to-moment and person-to-person, BBC Breakfast’s evergreen set reveals a different objective. 

BBC Breakfast resists tumult. Breaking stories are interspersed with interviews and banter amongst hosts. Daily interviews span current events, evergreen cultural debates and compelling personalities. When discussing topical issues, anchors chat with experts — either academics or average Brits with remarkable experience. Such expert narration slows down the news cycle: the interviewees have lived with their topic and gained insight through duration. They’ve earned their authority. Transforming contemporary issues into enduring themes keeps the sun shining in BBC Breakfast land.

The mix of interview subjects speaks to BBC Breakfast’s ability to recast stormy news as sunny stories. B-list celebrities and home-grown sports heroes appear regularly. Each guest boasts a singular claim to fame that implies accomplishment and permanency: that album they released, their ultramarathon adventure. Interview subjects boast a singular accomplishment that defines their identity. Unlike A-list celebrities and Olympic athletes, who must re-prove themselves with each creative endeavour and competition, these minor figures single achievement allows them to stay sunny in viewers’ minds. Focusing on the so-called every person ensures that competition and failure don’t cause stormy skies in BBC Breakfast land.

When the every person isn’t interviewed, discussion topics imply their presence. Weather reports become cathartic moments in which the presenter bonds with the audience over another grey weekend or a gloriously sunny Tuesday. Emotions are performed as if selected from a list of socially approved reactions to Weather. Warmth is good, drizzly mornings a shame. Weather might be capricious but its consistent interpretation reinforces BBC Breakfast’s bright disposition.

Although expert interviews and weather reports craft a comfortable environment, it’s the sports reporting that exemplifies how BBC Breakfast reconciles entertainment with information. Sport balances news and leisure. Teams’ fortunes change by the game and by the season, but team loyalty endures rough patches. This hybrid reflects the breakfast news cocktail. Drama is allowed, but only when an umbrella is nearby to protect against rain.

But it’s not just sport itself that exemplify BBC Breakfast’s viewpoint. Presenter Sally Nugent comes in for her five-minute sport spot to remind the viewers that a female can talk rugby so long as she presents herself as Woman. Perched on the red couch, Nugent wears heels and make up as she speaks authoritatively on cricket and snooker and tennis. The viewer shouldn’t notice who is presenting, just the outcome of Sunday’s Chelsea versus Arsenal game. But the viewer can’t help but internalise a disconnect between Nugent’s shiny shoes and the dirty cleats she describes. BBC Breakfast might allow for the untraditional and let a woman present the news, so long as she reminds the viewer that Woman remains unchanged by Sport.

BBC Breakfast presents information not as entertainment, but as reassurance. If breakfast news treats viewers as friends, gently waking them up to the world, BBC Breakfast presents the volatile world through familiar tropes to affect permanence. The news might frighten, but experts reassure the viewer of the world’s coherence. Daily life may tire, but average folk become celebrities and perform physical feats. Rain may be annoying, but rejoice for the fifteen minutes of sun on Saturday morning. Sports are for everyone, but the same characters suss out the game. BBC Breakfast news doesn’t leave the day clouded in uncertainty. It uses the news to combine drama and consistency, reminding audiences that there’s always a sunny side to daily tumult.