It hasn’t even been a year since it was announced that BBC Breakfast fave Steph McGovern would be defecting to Channel 4 to front her own show, and already you’d be forgiven for thinking it had all gone awry.
The star’s new programme, Steph’s Packed Lunch, is a light-hearted, current affairs-led venture, not dissimilar from This Morning or Sunday Brunch – and though the channel’s bold scheduling means it’s duelling daily with established titans like Loose Women on ITV and the Lunchtime News on BBC One, I reckon it’s destined for great things.
Of course, thanks to the pesky pandemic, the road so far has been bumpy enough as it is: rather than coming from Channel 4’s exciting new Leeds HQ in the spring as planned, the programme – initially titled The Steph Show – aired live from the presenter’s own house during the height of lockdown.
It was put on the back-burner after six weeks because, as Channel 4 boss Ian Katz quipped, ‘we have stretched the patience of the neighbours’.
Fast-forward to September 14, precisely one month ago, and the jazzed-up, renamed, glossy-studio-based Packed Lunch finally, properly launched.
If you’ve never seen it, and you’ve just been casting half an eye over the showbiz headlines in recent weeks, you might think it’s been a bit of a disaster.
The ratings people at the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB) reportedly recorded zero viewers at one point during the show’s seventh episode; leading to widespread (and occasionally mean-spirited) media speculation that it was already circling the drain, and some bookies even bagging themselves easy publicity by offering odds on its demise.
Loose Women, in contrast, was said to have managed around a million pairs of eyes on the same day.
But while it’s undeniable that Steph’s Packed Lunch hasn’t been an instant ratings powerhouse, it’s far from a misfire.
For a start, it’s not even performing as badly as it seemed: BARB only samples just over 5,000 households when calculating their figures, and their own website admits that ‘if a TV set programme rating is reported as zero, this does not necessarily mean that no-one in the UK watched the programme; it means that no one on the BARB panel watched it’.
A Channel 4 spokesperson confirmed that the ‘zero-gate’ episode in question officially peaked at 204,000; and its overall average was only 6,000 down on the much-hyped series launch eight days earlier.
And ratings aside, the most important thing is that the show – in my humble opinion – is great.
I’ve been dipping in and out on my lunch breaks; that blessed time of day at which I take a quick breather from my regular routine of working, procrastinating, and screaming into the abyss over how crap the world is – and I’ve really warmed to it.
First and foremost, Steph is a star. She holds the whole thing together with a naturally warm, funny and quick-thinking energy that feels right at home in this kind of ‘magazine show’ environment, which will be no surprise to anyone who loved her in the early mornings on BBC One.
She’s surrounded herself with good company, too: the array of recurring guests – among them soap legend Gemma Atkinson, Popworld icon Miquita Oliver and JLS star-turned-culinary maestro JB Gill – all have an engaging rapport that rarely feels forced or awkward.
And there’s a great palette of items on the agenda. Much like This Morning, Packed Lunch flits easily from entertainment to current affairs to gardening to real-life to asking the studio audience what they think of the latest Covid-19 developments, and it works.
(By the way Steph, if you want someone to provide the soap gossip or the showbiz latest, drop me a lil’ DM – I could be Sharon Marshall crossed with a knock-off Rylan.)
Admittedly, as is to be expected for any new show of this ilk, it’s not been completely gaffe-free.
There is the odd sticky moment when a funny item doesn’t quite land or the studio itself feels too cavernous (presumably the post-Covid-19 aim is to one day have a bigger audience to fill it).
But considering it’s been ambitiously put together amid coronavirus protocols and social distancing rules, it’s pretty impressive.
I just hope channel bosses allow time for more people to discover it. It could even be as big as Loose Women, if there’s any justice – though maybe not while they’re still competing for a similar demographic in a similar timeslot.
Perhaps Steph could look to Susanna Reid for assurance. Good Morning Britain was also met with near-instant whispers that it could be canned, and now, six years later – for better or worse – it’s still on air, and regularly sparking conversation (though I seriously hope Steph doesn’t end up being joined by a Piers-like co-anchor).
That said, if ratings don’t improve and it does bite the dust, I hope she is given another vehicle with which to shine.
None of the programme’s minor teething problems are down to her, and she’s simply too much of a likeable, knowledgeable, live-TV-friendly broadcaster to waste.
The bottom line is that when I tune in to watch her during my little lunch breaks, I forget that the world outside is a flaming garbage fire. And that takes some skill.
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