As editor of GMTV, journalist and former presenter Martin Frizell has big plans. He wants to give the show a harder news edge and lure audiences from BBC 1. But he faces a major battle against falling figures.
In the run-up to its autumn relaunch, the great and the good at GMTV, the breakfast-time ITV franchise owned by Granada, SMG, Disney and Carlton, did not want Broadcast to write about any of the new changes.

GMTV wanted to make an announcement to all the tabloids over its flamboyant brunch at the Edinburgh International TV festival, on the eve of the new look. It wanted to guarantee as much coverage as possible for this 'major event'.

Sadly, none of the tabloids wrote a thing, bar a small mention in the historically influential Daily Star.

The five new presenters GMTV had signed - Sky's breakfast anchor Kate Garraway, Sky sport correspondent Andrew Castle, Carlton weather presenter Clare Nasir and popular entertainment faces Jenni Falconer and Ben Shephard - went by largely unnoticed.

But heck, no bother. After all it was, says GMTV editor Martin Frizell, just the beginning of the renaissance.

'We need a refurbishment, not an overhaul, and the autumn schedule is the first step,' he says, adding that even the way it looks is being made over. Indeed, the all-important sofa has been toned down to 'a modern reddish colour'.

'It's been annoying the hell out of me. It looked like something from the Queensway autumn warehouse sale 1997,' he says, leaning back into his ghastly bright orange leather sofa that looks like something from the Queensway autumn warehouse sale 1997. 'The bold checks distracted viewers from what presenters were trying to put across.' And, six months into the job, Frizell wants the presenters to put across something different.

Frizell - a seasoned journalist - intends to give it a more journalistic slant. 'I'm chasing harder stories, which we hope will bring the audience with us. But viewers may find them unpalatable.'

He points to the GMTV newsteam currently out in Botswana, researching material for a major piece on Aids as an example of the kind of items he wants to bring to the programme.

'We like to think we're more in tune with our viewers (than the BBC) and we don't have to make lofty decisions about what we think they should be told.

'It's interesting that the BBC is trying to steal our thunder by hiring what they call "character correspondents". They're trying to do our kind of story but they're not quite getting it right. It's like watching spoof presenter Mr Cholmondley-Warner on Harry Enfield's show. While we're going to be more serious to a degree, it will be in a popular sense.'

Ironically, as the BBC and its character correspondents begin to chase GMTV viewers, Frizell claims his more 'intelligent' approach to news is designed to steal BBC audiences. 'Many viewers find BBC 1 a bit worthy,' he says, alluding to the findings of a focus group session.

However, while Frizell remains bullish, the BBC's decision to ramp up its breakfast news output with a new format from 2 October has certainly put the wind up GMTV. Director of programmes Peter McHugh has made no bones about the fact that the 'refurbished' autumn schedule has been instigated to combat BBC 1's forthcoming changes. No longer can the ITV broadcaster count on the lion's share of the morning TV audience.

The BBC is already overtaking GMTV on a regular basis. In fact, since Frizell took over in December last year as executive producer, audiences have tailed off considerably (according to Barb year-on-year figures to July, audience share is down 4 per cent). "The summer's not been great,' he explains. 'We tried to give the programme a younger appeal this summer with GMTV Cafe (launched in July and axed three weeks later). We put children's programming on as well. That didn't work. I think we put Cafe on too early (07.30). It didn't sit easily with news.'

Cafe will return later this year with a more international focus 'from New York or Barcelona. Our viewers like it when we take the show on the road.'

According to 41 year-old Frizell (or rather his advertising team), the average GMTV viewer is a 31 year-old female who lives in new housing development outside Swindon, drives a compact BMW 316i car and has two children. She watches GMTV for 50 minutes each day.

'But our viewers range from teenagers - and younger - to pensioners.

We have lots of aspirational thirtysomethings, but I'd be lying if didn't say a large percentage of our viewers are housewives with children. That's our market'

It is also not a million miles away from the market that multi-channel suppliers lust after. With the new buffet of morning shows - ITN News Channel, CNN, Sky News, not to mention a glut of others - GMTV may soon find itself in more than a two-horse race.

'Content is king here,' states Frizell. 'No other channel has the magazine and news content that we have.'

As well as the usual lifestyle fare, Frizell has launched a new Friday entertainment show, Entertainment Today, hosted by Shephard - of Channel 4 teen strand T4 - and Falconer, last seen on ITV's We Can Work It Out.

The show, based on similar US formats, got off to a solid start last Friday (1 September) with an 'exclusive' interview with Clint Eastwood.

GMTV's new look is supposed to be 'punchier' and, arguably, it has achieved that. The programme is more fluid. There's less faffing around from the main presenters Eamonn Holmes, Fiona Phillips and news anchor Penny Smith - and it's noticeably more journalistic. However, 'certain things still need to be changed,' Frizzell says enigmatically.

Like what? 'I can't say,' he grins. Really? 'Yes, sorry.'

He must be saving it for the tabloids.

Name: Martin FrizellPosition: Editor, GMTVPotted career history: Started at F Johnson Group in Scotland as a reporter and moved to Radio Clyde in 1982. In 1987 moved to TV-am as senior reporter/presenter after a year working for the Daily Mail, the Express, IRN and LBC. Became chief correspondent of GMTV in 1993. He became executive producer of GMTV in December 1999 and then took over as editor in March 2000On not being a reporter anymore: 'There are some nights I go home and think, "I wouldn't mind just going off to do a story instead of turning up for work in the morning"'

On editing GMTV: 'It's 95 per cent psychology and politics and five per cent ideas'

On being his wife's (Fiona Phillips) boss: 'She doesn't get any special treatment from me, in fact I tend to give her a harder time'

On life after GMTV: 'If (head of Sky News) Nick Pollard gives up then I might think about going for his job. I'm sure I could do something at Sky. Otherwise, I'd like to own a marina somewhere'

On the BBC's new breakfast show: 'I think our biggest worry is Jeremy Bowen. At the Edinburgh FestivaI I kept seeing Jeremy in the bar at the George hotel with all these young girls coming up and talking to him. I don't think the BBC realise how lethal he could be'.