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AustraliaComment: Virginia Trioli reflects on breakfast TV, winning over doubters, and her next move

22:52  14 august  2019
22:52  14 august  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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It was a thrilling, silent flight. It was a swan dive for the ages.

Joe Sumic, the chief floor manager of News Breakfast, is one of the great veterans of ABC TV.

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Comment: Virginia Trioli reflects on breakfast TV, winning over doubters, and her next move© Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation Virginia Trioli led News Breakfast right from the start. (ABC News: Patrick Wood) He's been involved in almost every major show that's been produced from Ripponlea to Southbank and back again. He knows his craft like no other.

He's funny, warm and wise and the first sight of his smiling face each morning makes your heart lift.

How is he today, you ask? "Loving life!" he declares, every single time.

But on this day, at this moment in 2013, Joe was uncharacteristically caught short.

He was standing behind me and my co-host Michael Rowland, sorting out a battery issue.

We'd run out of time for the full weather report and our weather presenter, Vanessa O'Hanlon, cut short her bulletin and suddenly threw back to us.

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His reflex was automatic.

The unflappable Joe leapt into the air and sailed across the studio at full stretch, and crashed to the floor behind us, one half second before the camera cut back to Michael and me on the couch.

Comment: Virginia Trioli reflects on breakfast TV, winning over doubters, and her next move© ABC News: Patrick Wood Joe is the backbone behind the scenes of News Breakfast. The video shows it all.

First, we were stunned. Then, we lost it.

It was not only uncontrollably funny, it was a pivotal moment in the 11-year history of News Breakfast, the program I leave this Friday.

The day we stopped pretending

Oh yes — we'd had errors, bloopers and mistakes go to air before. Plenty of them.

In fact, for the program that was the leading edge of new television technology — no live, three-hour program in the country had been fully automated before — mistakes were our building blocks.

Comment: Virginia Trioli reflects on breakfast TV, winning over doubters, and her next move© ABC News Paul Kennedy, Barrie Cassidy and Virginia launched the show. I'm pretty sure no program has broadcast so many of them as us. But each time we broadcast a blooper, we set our faces straight and unblinkingly charged on.

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Never complain, never explain. Nothing to see here.

But that day — that was the day we stopped pretending. There is farce, there is high farce, and then there's the sight of your floor manager huddled behind the couch on the floor behind you desperately wishing himself into invisibility after a studio-shattering thud.

There was no holding it back this time: I cracked up. Michael cracked up and the tears of hysterical laughter rolled.

Vanessa — part of the original four presenters of Barrie Cassidy, Paul Kennedy and me — sagely observed at the time that this was the moment our program changed, and for the better.

We were up until then a rather stitched-up bunch.

We took our remit awfully seriously: we had the weight of expectation (and scepticism) on us and a heritage of Australia's best news and current affairs to honour.

And we knew what much of the ABC audience thought of breakfast TV.

We had access to the country's best foreign correspondents and a time zone that allowed us to talk to the world's leading thinkers in international affairs.

At the very beginning, we originally all dressed in suits, our weather presenter included, looking like nothing so much as a bunch of funeral directors. Or bankers.

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But something clicked that day, and we realised there was so much more of ourselves we could bring to air each morning, that we could share with our viewers, without ever compromising our unofficial motto: we send you away smarter.

And with that, News Breakfast truly became the amazing show that it is.

Mistakes? We've made a few

Comment: Virginia Trioli reflects on breakfast TV, winning over doubters, and her next move© ABC News On this show we are not constructions or projections of what we think TV people should be: for good or ill, we are genuinely ourselves with our passions and peeves, curiosity and experience, and I think this is what has made the show the success that it is.

The other day I came across an old magazine article from the year we started in 2008: "Virginia Trioli on the biggest gamble of her career," the headline shrieked.

Funny, it didn't seem like that at the time.

When the call came from then-head of News and Current Affairs, Kate Torney, the idea of establishing an intelligent, thoughtful and fast-paced program on the beach-head of daily broadcasting — breakfast — seemed like the most logical proposal I'd ever heard.

We have long had proud news and current affairs programs on radio from morning 'til night, and always on TV from the 7:00pm news bulletin onward.

But breakfast TV had been tried and abandoned before. Somehow, we just couldn't find the right way of doing it.

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Enter executive producer Ben Darcy and deputy Tim Ayliffe and a team of young and enthusiastic producers who were prepared to do battle with a series of never-before-tried computer programs and to apply the principles of rolling-flow radio to a TV show.

No stand-and-deliver current affairs, but a dynamic and responsive program of reports, crosses and interviews — with a good handful of technical errors thrown in.

It was character-forming, I tell you.

Comment: Virginia Trioli reflects on breakfast TV, winning over doubters, and her next move© ABC News There are a lot of stories from behind the scenes. There was the time a ceiling light crashed to the floor a metre or so from where we sat. We imperceptibly flinched and calmly read on.

There was a solid year of drilling and building construction that started on the dot of 6:00am, through which we broadcast with gritted teeth, fraying nerves and fading patience.

There were the studio guests, so relieved for their terror-inducing interview to be over, that they fled the studio the moment we thanked them — sometimes bolting in front of the camera, but always with their microphone and battery pack clattering behind them, and ultimately tethering them to the couch.

If you look closely you can often see my arm shoot out to restrain another desperate escapee.

There were microphone fails and camera fails, and remote crosses that crashed to black; coughing fits and dropped cups of coffee; malapropisms and spoonerisms; guests who froze and guests who would not stop.

And through it all, the unfailing good humour of a hard-working production team and a formidable presenting team.

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We knew we had lucked into a great idea that was ultimately going to turn into a great program.

No-one lost the faith. Everyone just kept working at it.

'You look like you're good friends'

It's true that a good half of success is simply showing up.

Comment: Virginia Trioli reflects on breakfast TV, winning over doubters, and her next move© ABC News: Dominic Cansdale Virginia will take over from Jon Faine in October. The veteran broadcaster Jon Faine, into whose place I slip on October 14, told me after my first day on radio that all I had to do now was to come in every day and do the work: that's how you build an audience, through consistency and time.

And our audience really is something else.

From day one, we have reached across the country and gathered in viewers from the west, the Top End, the far reaches of Queensland, the towns of Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria and all the big cities in between.

We have been helped by our brilliant and generous colleagues across the country, who have been prepared to show up at dawn and talk us through their news. And their locals, now our locals, have loved it.

The Mayor of Gayndah in Queensland has been corresponding with me for almost 10 years — he sends me a Gayndah calendar every December.

Mrs Betty Firth of Sippy Downs, Queensland, sends me hand-decorated coathangers and birthday cards and writes in a perfect copperplate script.

Our viewers sustain me, even when they are cross at me. They are engaged, thoughtful and real. And I'm daily delighted they stick with us.

It has been staggering and humbling to be standing in a street in Darwin, or Brisbane or Alice Springs or Hobart and have someone come up and say how much they love the show.

My husband noted last year, after a day of travelling across the country to a holiday destination, that from bag drop to collection carousel we could have documented our trip through the selfies that were requested along the way.

The sentiment is always the same: "You all look like you are such good friends."

A Virginia teen saw a historic black cemetery in disrepair. He recruited his fellow Boy Scouts to restore it.

A Virginia teen saw a historic black cemetery in disrepair. He recruited his fellow Boy Scouts to restore it. Griffin Burchard first spotted Douglass Memorial Cemetery — named for orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass — while on a service trip with his Boy Scout troop about three years ago in Virginia.

And we are.

There's a respect and an affection that goes beyond what we do together each day for three hours, and there's the unspoken understanding that comes from successes and disappointments experienced in each other's company.

Comment: Virginia Trioli reflects on breakfast TV, winning over doubters, and her next move© ABC News: Danielle Bonica It's the depth of talent that helps make News Breakfast. I admire Michael's news sense enormously. I love Paul's breadth and depth of interests. I'm inspired by the polymath that is Nate, and Georgie has a natural feel for television communication that is so rare.

Tough on pollies? That's the job

The privilege of the job of journalism is that we get to ask impertinent questions of pretty much anyone, and then expect an honest answer.

You bet we take it seriously: there's a lot of yak about the "theatre" of the political interview, but for me it's deadly serious.

The politicians might be posturing, but every time I interview an elected official I'm imagining what the voter who funds them is yelling at the TV, or worrying about at home, or banging their head against at work.

Apparently I have a reputation for going in hard.

Well, for me that's just the job.

And then there's the free-form pleasure of sitting with creative, imaginative, poetic people, whose visions and art clear a path for our souls in this cluttered world.

Of listening to the wonderful writer and National Gallery director Betty Churcher tell me about her fading eyesight, and "midnight sitting on her shoulder"; of sharing tales of licks, spit and shrieks with the startlingly urbane Paul Stanley of Kiss; of approaching an interview with the terrifying actor Judy Davis as if I was being sent to a firing squad, and instead encountering a kittenish actress with a guffaw like a gunshot.

Comment: Virginia Trioli reflects on breakfast TV, winning over doubters, and her next move© ABC News Paul Stanley is every bit as charming as you might expect. I may never recover from sitting in awe as the great Steve Earle riffed on the role of the Vietnam War in popular music. I know I'll never recover from being kissed on the cheek by Sam Neill.

But apart from the amazing guests and the whip-smart audience, there's a central truth that remains.

Find the team that backs you

After many years in journalism, from the newsroom of The Age, to the re-born offices of Kerry Packer's Bulletin magazine, to ABC radio in two cities and television shows around the country, I've learned a few fundamentals.

But without doubt the most important is that the team is everything, and I reckon that's something we can all relate to.

We all need to live with or to work with people who know us, understand us and share the mission on which we are embarked.

That commonality of vision, the agreed task and the group culture that fosters respect and collegiality is, I have concluded after all these years, everything.

Find the team that looks at you as if you actually have something meaningful to contribute to this world: that's the greatest truth I take from these 11 amazing years.

Thank you — thank you so much, for being part of the News Breakfast community, and with that, I hope fervently that you will go well.

VT x

A Virginia teen saw a historic black cemetery in disrepair. He recruited his fellow Boy Scouts to restore it..
Griffin Burchard first spotted Douglass Memorial Cemetery — named for orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass — while on a service trip with his Boy Scout troop about three years ago in Virginia.

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