The BBC's new breakfast show airs from next month. With a more structured format and a look styled on the web, will it beat GMTV in the ratings or will Roland Rat have to be brought out again to chew up the opposition?
Etiquette demands that you shouldn't play with your food. But broadcasters can't help toying with their breakfasts. The Big Breakfast's future is in question again, following the return two weeks ago of Denise Van Outen but not of big ratings. GMTV is being relaunched. And on 2 October BBC news airs its new breakfast show, Breakfast.

BBC director general Greg Dyke knows from his TV-am and Roland Rat days just how many headlines a channel's breakfast offering can garner. After GMTV eventually unveiled its latest rejig to Broadcast (Broadcast, 8.9.00), the corporation was the first on the phone to scoff at its rival's offering.

BBC Breakfast editor Andrew Thompson claims GMTV is in danger of 'producing something out of date'.

'It's their second relaunch in the last year. The days of red bricks and lots of pot plants came to an end some time ago,' he says. Naturally, his set will be appropriately minimalist, featuring glass bricks and only the odd lone pot plant.

He argues: 'I think GMTV looks a bit old fashioned. It's quite cluttered in its visual style, lots of plants and shelves, whereas our breakfast programme will look more modern and elegant and stylish. Viewers will have a clear choice.'

But BBC news' Breakfast is about more than Martin Lambie-Nairn-inspired cosmetic changes. The seven-day-a-week operation has a lot riding on it.

Breakfast is the first scheduled programme to air simultaneously on BBC 1 and News 24 between Monday and Friday. By combining the old News 24 and BBC 1 breakfast teams, the news division saves£1.5m, but has had to make redundancies. At the weekend Breakfast airs on News 24 and BBC 2 on Saturdays and News 24 on Sundays.

The 180-minute format is also more structured than its predecessor, with the new running order reflecting the different audiences that tune in over the course of the three-hour show. Emphasising this, the set even has different style areas corresponding to the various segments of the show. It also includes new graphics and titles and taps into News 24's technology.

Thompson admits the old BBC Breakfast News had one or two problems. 'Viewers were never sure when news ended and features began. It felt a bit unstructured.

We're doing this (relaunch) in response to the way people now say they want their news. I think audiences are becoming more sophisticated.'

Breakfast's first hour is fairly formal, assuming that early morning viewers want lots of information in short 'infobursts'. Standalone bulletins fronted by Moira Stuart top each hour and the screen is splintered for part of the time, like a web page or the Bloomberg channel. It comprises scrolling news, business and sports headlines and either a weather or a 'coming up next' box. A supporting web page in the same style is planned.

Sport and business are given more weight and pace and are better integrated.

The pilot running order playing through September includes features such as the Sports Minute and Mutter from the Gutter (City news from the Stock Exchange). From 07.00 to 08.35 the same news belt will drive the show but the emphasis will be on popular current affairs with entertainment, business, money and sport features. The final 25 minutes will be topical conversation.

An integral part of the new look is the presenting team. The line-up, in addition to Stuart, is Jeremy Bowen, Sophie Raworth, Sarah Montague and Darren Jordon. Thompson says: 'I'm pleased we've only got one middle class, middle-aged man in the line-up.

I think Jeremy and Sophie are going to be one of the great TV couples.'

Breakfast also has six dedicated reporters, plus the use of newsgathering's correspondents. Thompson's deputy is Carey Clark and the team consists of around 60 staff, including administrators and managers. It will be based in a new office one floor above that of the old team so that it's near its own planning team - while the studio is shared with Newsnight.

Preparations for the new programme were not without problems. The change of rota for staff to a 24/7 operation did not go down well and a dispute still hangs over Breakfast about the precise number of technicians in the gallery. The name also caused some headaches. One staffer said even Dyke and director of television Mark Thompson weighed in, branding some suggestions 'unspeakable'. Eventually Breakfast was chosen, a simple title that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Thompson is coy about how much Breakfast is costing. While GMTV averages around 1.8 million viewers, Thompson says Breakfast does not have to aim for a particular ratings figure although the obvious implication is that the new show should beat the old, which averaged around 1.1 million.

'You've got to keep changing. The audience needs it. I think the Big Breakfast format was fantastic when it first came out. But once they've lost Johnny Vaughan they will lose their greatest asset. We have a clearer remit, to tap into the beating heart of newsgathering,' says Thompson.

And there is more news to come. Another big-name signing to the team is due soon. Following Denise Van Outen's return to breakfast TV, could it be that Dyke really is going to dust off Roland Rat?