The pay of TV presenters creates a lot of hot air. So why do they get so much money?
I’ll cut to the chase – they deserve it. So if this is a subject that gets your goat and drives you to write to The Daily Telegraph about the iniquity of it all, then prepare to be annoyed.
Firstly, if you think they are overpaid then do it yourself. Get a share in the millions. I really mean that. You don’t have to be good looking – Bill Oddie is rich as Croesus I assume. You don’t have to have a great voice (see Bill Oddie) You don’t have to be universally loved (cough) You don’t have to be an expert – Carol Vorderman was an Engineering graduate with a gloriously mixed record – Cambridge, but a third….
You don’t have to be connected although the lovely Dan Snow is the son of the equally lovely Peter Snow.
What you have to have is a desire to be a TV presenter, although I suspect one of the greatest of them all, Sir David Attenborough, was not driven by the show-off gene, but his burning enthusiasm and passion (one of the few times I think the word is accurate) for his subject.
It helps to be smart. Sir David was Controller on BBC 2 before he was a TV presenter… But you don’t have to be smart at all. I refuse to name anyone here, but there are plenty who are thick as a brick.
Why does he get 10 times what I get?
When I was on Tomorrow’s World I very quickly became comfortable with the idea that the presenter was earning 5 to 10 times what I was. When people on the team would comment on this, I would say. “We’ll audition you next week if you want a go.” A few were, and one has even made it.
So why did they get paid an order of magnitude more than the Director who had found the story, written the script, hired the crew, found the location, booked the hotel, provided the props and driven the car with the presenter sleeping in it from London?
Because good TV presenters are rare. Scarcity drives up price. That’s economics.
A BBC diversion
As ex-BBC I believe the BBC is one of the institutions that makes Britain great. They are many who disagree. Visit the Daily Telegraph or Daily Mail site and find a BBC story with comments from the public and you will be exposed to hundreds of people who describe the BBC as satan, marxist, evil, a conspiracy, leeches, scum and worse. They hate paying the licence fee.
One constant complaint is that if the BBC is paid for by you and me then it should conform to different rules. That Jeremy Clarkson should be paid the same as a nurse and be grateful for it.
I made a series with Jeremy Clarkson – Speed.
While we were making it Channel 5 offered Jeremy seven figures to join them. Jeremy declined. He declined I think, mainly for two reasons, the first is the self-serving one; he knew that while C5 would shower him in wealth, feed him on larks tongues, serve him Krug as he walked over rose petals to sit at his golden throne, if he stayed at the BBC he would make better TV. Sorry C5. Its a fact. And Jeremy really wants to make great TV. The second is more complex. He both loathes and loves the BBC. The BBC is Repton, the public school that expelled him, but it is also the centre of power and Jeremy in a weird angry way loves it. And believes in it.
So Jeremy is always going to cost money, and the frothing anti-BBC brigade would say, “Just let him go to C5” but then everyone would have to go and all BBC shows would be rubbish so they might as well shut up shop.
So BBC diversion over.
Good presenters are scarce. But if you can do it, like Alan Titchmarsh (a mystery to me what people see in him) then surely we can swop Clarkson for someone else? We can dump expensive Vorderman and get cheap Rachel Riley.
The first case demonstrates scarcity. Clarkson is unique. Irreplaceable. If he was replaceable the Australian and US versions of Top Gear (same format – different presenters) would have been huge successes – they weren’t. Because Top Gear isn’t a successful format. It’s Clarkson’s show. He carries it.
Much like Jeremy’s relationship with the BBC I both love and loathe him in equal measure. I think he’s a genius who is brilliant at looking like he is just thinking aloud, but in fact works really, really hard at everything he does. But on the other side he would sit in the office and did say “How hard can it be?” and mean it, usually when talking about landing a jump jet on the top of a bus in Piccadilly Circus or getting 500 drum majorettes to Rotherham for 9 am the next day. Demanding would be the word. But demanding gets results. So I respect him for that.
The second case is less clear. Carol Vorderman, who I had the genuine privilege to work with on her short (sacked) stint on Tomorrow’s World, is the best TV presenter in the world. She is charming, easy to work with, enthusiastic, nice to everyone, understanding of the pressures of production and really, really hard working. She has a unique ability to deliver a rubbish sentence so well, first time, that if you were undemanding you would say “Wrap” and go home. If you were demanding, and we were, you would say, “Carol that’s great, but can you do one more where you attack the first half of the sentence, then slow down and drop away a bit and then do a big build up to hit the last phrase hard? And the whole thing a tiny bit slower?” And Carol would do that….exactly. RoboPresenter I called her.
So she’s the best, and they sacked her off Countdown and got Rachel Riley for a fraction of the price. So, you could do that for all of them and save 90% of your presenter budget?
Well no. Remember Carol did’t carry that show. The man in the seat carries the show. I’ll explain carry below, and why it’s important. But Carol was icing on someone else’s cake. She picked the cards and added up a few numbers. This is not the same as sending Howard off the Nationwide ads to be Sir David in the arctic. For all her skills, it wasn’t a stretch for RoboPresenter.
And Rachel Riley is a star. I’ve just googled her and the top hit? Rachel Riley in her sexiest dress – 500,000 hits.
I think they did OK finding a replacement don’t you? But that doesn’t mean I could have done that job…. Maybe you could. If you look nice in a dress.
Who carries the show?
So what do TV people mean by carry?
Clarkson carries Top Gear. Ramsay carries every show he’s in. Anyone in the title is carrying the show.
Anyone who carries a show deserves lots of money because it is quite unlikely they can be replaced. That’s the way the world is. No one thinks you can replace Florence with Mavis and get the same result, even if the Machine remains. That’s obvious.
But there is another sort of show – where the format carries the show. The One Show. News. Newsnight. Songs of Praise, Antiques Roadshow – there are millions of them.
Surely here the Presenters are interchangeable and we can pay peanuts?
Well no, again. Presenters are part of an eco-system. Most work their way up. Local news was always a good way in. But with the proliferation of channels there is much more demand. I’m sure wages on digital channels are lower but then if you move to a main channel you would expect a pay rise? Wouldn’t you?
Then if you move to a Primetime show you would expect a pay rise? Wouldn’t you?
Well even if you answer “NO!” to both it doesn’t matter. Because your agent, and if you don’t have one you are simply a fool, will absolutely insist that despite your relatively short career in TV if you expect my client to front Antiques Roadshow for that money you will become a laughing stock!
So any presenter is always going to cost. You can negotiate how much, but it’s rarely cheap, and if you don’t like it talk to us and we’ll train you up to be a TV presenter and maybe you can cash in. Kerching!