There are few platforms in entertainment more treacherous than morning talk shows. On both sides of the Atlantic, some of the pettiest headlines and highest-stakes contract battles have come from the series you put on in the background while you have your morning coffee and screw around on your phone. In America, shows like Good Morning America and NBC’s Today are home to the highest-paid people on television, and with that comes a hell of a lot of drama. The UK hasn’t been short of such scandals, but over the past month or so, the apparent jewel in the morning show crown began to lose its tarnish amid whispers that became impossible to overlook. Now, one of the biggest presenters in British television is out of a job and everyone is wondering what the real story is behind his stepping down.
Some background: This Morning is the morning show of ITV, having run on the channel continuously since 1988. It’s typically one of the highest-rated shows in its timeslot, easily taking over the other channels’ morning programming it helped to inspire. It also won the National Television Award for Best Daytime/Live Magazine Show for 18 years running, from 1998 to 2021. At its heart was Phillip Schofield, a former kids’ TV presenter and musical theatre star who was the main host for 21 years. Schofield is a big deal in the UK, having been a TV mainstay since the early ’80s and been a major face of ITV for decades. He’s such a big deal here that he cameoed on Ted Lasso, to put it into American perspective. While he’s had a number of co-hosts, his most prominent was Holly Willoughby, a former teen model who, prior to This Morning, co-hosted Dancing on Ice with Schofield. For 18 years, much has been made about how the pair had impeccable chemistry both on and off the screen. They’re BFFs in real life, holidaying together, and she was by his side on the air when he came out as gay in 2020 (while he was married to his then-wife.) A huge selling point of This Morning was their seeming authenticity. Well, that started to change a few weeks ago.
Headlines started to permeate the media claiming that Schofield and Willoughby had fallen out. Reports claimed that things had grown frosty between them, that Willoughby in particular was distancing herself from her co-host. Schofield issued a statement claiming that everything was OK, and that Holly was his ‘rock.’ She did not issue a statement supporting him or denying the tiff, which only made the rumours stronger. Eagle-eyed tweeters then noticed that she removed a reference to Schofield from her Twitter bio. Prior to all of this, there was the fallout over accusations that the pair jumped the 12-hour-long queue to see the Queen’s coffin, which might be the most pathetically British scandal of 2022.
The headlines began to flourish, with claims that Willoughby was ‘blindsided’ by Schofield’s statement, and that she was refusing to go on the air with him in the future. Former This Morning hosts Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford (who are also married) seemed to make digs at the situation. It was clear that there was blood in the water and the sharks were getting closer. Soon, reports claimed that Willoughby had made an ultimatum: her or Schofield. So, over the weekend, it was announced that Schofield would be leaving This Morning with ‘immediate effect.’ In his statement, Schofield said, ‘I understand ITV has decided the current situation can’t go on.’ Willoughby’s statement was short, pretty cold, and only seemed to confirm the feud rumours. The pair are still set to host the Soap Awards next month.
A lot of what we actually know about this situation is conjecture, unconfirmed gossip, and general whispers everyone has accepted as gospel. The hard details are tougher to find at this moment in time, although it seems inevitable that the floodgates will open at some point. Petty squabbles and tension that is probably fake are commonplace in the tabloids, usually easily ignored by those involved, but this felt different. You didn’t have to be a body language expert these morning talk shows love to host to notice that something felt off between Schofield and Willoughby. All those headlines started to feel reasonable, and the slivers of evidence more weighty than we’d expected. It takes a lot of effort to fake that palatable brand of morning show niceness for years on end, but it seemed effortless between this pair for a long time. So, the moment the veil slipped, it was like a small screen foghorn going off.
There’s no such thing as an untouchable celebrity. Everyone is replaceable, and in the hotbed of morning TV, there’s always someone waiting in the wings to take your place on the couch. Yet Schofield and Willoughby was a partnership that seemed pretty sturdy for ITV. They milked it for all its worth, having the pair host various events and specials together over the years. They were well-liked, beloved even, which makes the speed of their downfall all the more fascinating.
Talking about this situation is tricky because of what can’t be said. The Daily Mail has done some careful treading around a topic that’s well-known on social media, writing around it rather than about it. Just Google ‘Phillip Schofield superinjunction’ and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The Mail on Sunday alluded to the situation with the headline, ‘Young man who worked on This Morning and became close with friend and mentor Phillip Schofield left ITV ‘mysteriously.” See what I mean? Very careful. So, I can’t really get into this particular detail myself because I don’t want to get sued (libel laws in the UK are tough.)
What we do know is that Schofield’s brother was recently jailed for 12 years for sexually abusing a boy. After initially claiming he had no idea about his brother Timothy’s crimes, a statement from Schofield read in court noted that he had been told about one of the incidents involving a teenage boy and them watching pornography together. He then said his brother had then tried to give him more details about the incident, and he told him to stop.
There are some things you can come back from. Admitting that you knew your own brother was engaging in acts of child sexual abuse? That’s not one of them.
So, Schofield was pushed out. Sorry, I mean he ‘stepped down.’ The little verifiable truth we know about his situation is tough to stomach, and it has only further fuelled speculation about what’s to come. Willoughby is hanging in there, with many of the weeks’ worth of reports noting her eagerness to cut ties with the man she previously called her close friend. She’s married to Daniel Baldwin (not that one), a major TV producer who works across both ITV and the BBC, and there were claims that ITV were worried she would jump ship to a rival channel if Schofield didn’t go. This Morning has other hosts with big audience appeal, most notably Allison Hammond.
It seems that, by the time this post goes live, a new episode will have aired and viewers will have analysed every frame of its running time for clues. We’ll certainly get more twists in this narrative as the weeks past, particularly if Schofield and Willoughby still have network obligations to fulfill as a pair. Everyone is replaceable. The popular kids are never so forever. If more rumours are to follow, they will be plentiful and amplified to deafening volumes. All that and they didn’t even technically jump that queue…