Adam Boland: ‘Wake Up! didn’t know if it was an FM radio show or news program’

Adam-Boland-2Former executive producer of the Ten Network’s axed breakfast program Wake Up! Adam Boland has given new insight into the failures of the show, in his new book, arguing it didn’t know if it was a FM radio style program or a hard news program.

In his new book Brekky Central, which was this week rushed into book stores in an attempt by the publisher to capitalise on publicity generated by Seven launching legal action to see the book, Boland writes how he originally conceived the show as something that “couldn’t take itself too seriously” and “fun and at times frivolous” but was later caught out by Ten’s shift to an older demographic which left the program with a “split personality”.

The declaration is one of a number of revelations that Boland canvasses in the book which also reveals his shock at the sudden sacking of Ten CEO James Warburton just three days after he agreed to join Ten, the emotional sacking of Natasha Exelby from Wake Up!, some of the internal dynamics within the Sunrise “family” and how he has been forced to reflect on why “I have left so many people in television hating me.”

In the book Boland speaks at length about the failures of the Wake Up! program acknowledging he was responsible for many of the major problems in the show.

“Here’s where I went wrong,” writes Boland. “Instead of starting from scratch…. I held on to key features from the original plan, including both the beach studio and James (Mathison).

“I was so against the idea of producing another Sunrise that I tried to force a square peg into a round hole. Peter Meakin, who’d soon follow me to Ten to become the network’s new head of news and current affairs, believes it was a serious mistake. ‘You were too adventurous,’ he tells me. ‘I can see the temptation of not cloning or going head to head with the two dinosaurs, but that’s what you really had to do.’ Instead, we became a halfway house.”

Boland argues that he made fundamental mistakes in putting James Mathison, Natarsha Belling and Natasha Exelby together as cohosts of the program with Exelby quickly becoming the odd one out.

“(Exelby became) the odd one out on air,” Boland  writes “Tarsh and James would often be in full conversational flow when Natasha would interject with something that brought everything to a screeching halt.

“James turned to her on air one morning and said, ‘I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.’ He did it in such a way as to solicit a laugh, but it pointed to an underlying problem: James and Tarsh felt a serious disconnect from Natasha. In truth, that was as much their fault as hers.

“I suspect they’d become so nervous about what she might say that they preferred her to say as little as possible.”

The experienced TV producer, who prior to joining Ten had been key to the rise of Sunrise on Seven, writes that after returning from a bout of leave to deal with his own depression he was forced to dump her from the show.

“I met with Natasha straight after the show, in my car as we over-looked the beach. I didn’t want her to go to Channel Ten, where I thought the cold formality of a meeting with HR would undermine what I wanted to be a personal explanation.

“I suspect she knew it was coming. Although visibly and understandably upset, Natasha agreed the show hadn’t been working. Her last wish was that I’d stop it from becoming just another breakfast show. ‘Be different,’ she told me, ‘just like you’d promised.”

Boland argues that rather than having a “split personality” he should have sought to carve out a space with a more youthful audience.

“Nine and Seven weren’t just trying to get rid of Wake Up, they were also going hammer and tongs at each other. The slot remained one of the most competitive on television, and this was all the more reason Wake Up should’ve been aimed at a younger audience,” he writes.

On the sacking of Ten CEO James Warburton, Boland describes how he was at an airport, three days after agreeing to join the network, when he heard what he describes an “appalling decision.”

“Three days after shaking hands with James, I was walking through Sydney Airport when I looked up at a television,” he writes. “Sky News was reporting breaking news: James Warburton had been sacked by Channel Ten for failing to get instant results. I couldn’t believe it. He’d been in the job for a little more than a year—nowhere near long enough to turn around a network. To this day, I consider the board’s decision appalling.”

Boland also gives a window into the “Sunrise family” and shows that despite claims by Seven that there is “nothing in the book” there were clashes of personality within the show.

He details one exchange which saw him and weatherman Grant Denyer end up in a shouting match in the control room after Boland was rude to the presenter’s wife Cheryl, a producer on the show.

“I was in the control room and lashed out at Cheryl over our production intercom. It had been her job to investigate the live-cross location the day before, to ensure it worked,” Boland explains.

“Minutes later, Grant stormed into the control room and looked as if he were about to punch me. His face turned red as he levelled abuse, accusing me of insulting his wife. In reality, I had spoken to her like I would have to any other producer who’d let the show down. There’s no time for niceties while we’re live on air”

The verbal brawl eventually had to be broken up by the production manager: “In the end, production manager Dave Masala broke up the exchange by physically stepping in. Dave’s not a small guy, so when he pushed us apart it had the desired effect. Grant slammed the door on his way out. He was off air for the rest of the morning (I can’t remember if that was his choice or mine) leaving Mel (Doyle) to read the weather.”

The book concludes with Boland acknowledging a number of his key mistakes and the relationships that he says he has damaged. He cites a decision by his successor at Sunrise and former boyfriend Michael Pell to leak text messages where he was attempting to get former employees back their jobs as a sign of how poorly some people felt treated by him.

“The fact I have left so many people in television hating me (including some, like Michael, who once loved me) has, naturally, forced me to reflect,” Boland writes. “I’m proud of many things I did during my time in television and, in particular, the activism of Sunrise and its original charter to make a difference.

“I’m not proud of the way I made that happen: an almost single-minded devotion to my shows that sometimes blinded me to the way I treated those around me.”

Nic Christensen 


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