They are the Sunrise ‘yummy mummies,’ the double-act girls sharing their lives on screen on a daily basis, and endearing themselves to a national audience.
But when it comes to the competition, Melissa Doyle and Natalie Barr differ markedly in their views.
Melissa Doyle is pragmatic about the key opposition, Nine’s Today show, which she grew up watching with its former presenters. Now she welcomes the fight from a fourth player entering the landscape, TEN’s Breakfast, in 2012.
“I know Karl and Lisa and they’re both delightful,” says Doyle. “Lisa used to work with us. Karl’s a lovely guy.
“I think there needs to be variety in the marketplace. I think there needs to be different programmes. There is a certain viewer out there that wants to watch ABC News who wouldn’t dream about turning us on in the morning. The same as there are viewers who watch us who aren’t interested in ABC News. It’s just like night time. Some people watch 7:30 and other people like The X Factor.
“The only thing I would say is I think we all need to have a point of difference. Nobody wants three choices that are all very similar.”
Of the three current choices, Sunrise leads on national figures but on the east coast the game is a lot tighter between Seven and Nine. Doyle concedes that Sunrise isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.
“There’s a lot of people who can’t stand me or Kochie or both of us and they watch Lisa and Karl and love them and that’s great. I’ve got programmes that I don’t watch and others that I prefer,” she says.
“But I hate the fact that everybody pits us all against one another on a personal level. We’re not all sitting there plotting, thinking ‘I’ve got to beat Karl and Lisa this morning.’ The bosses worry about all of that and the rest of us focus on what we do.”
By contrast News presenter Natalie Barr is more blunt about the prospect of Breakfast‘s upcoming arrival.
“I just hope they do really badly, quite frankly, and hope we do well!” she laughs.
“I could give you the politically correct answer but why would I want them to do well? I want us to win!
“I could lie to you and say ‘It’s great to have competition, we thrive on that’, which we do. And they have every right to enter the fray and good on them. But I hope we win and I hope they lose!”
No holds Barr-ed, it seems?
Barr has had 9 years of bringing her personality to Sunrise, having begun her journalism career as a cadet with The Wanneroo Times in Western Australia. On her first day the editor had to give her directions to the office. Her first job in TV was with the Golden West Network in Kalgoorlie, followed by a position in Bunbury. She followed her boyfriend (now husband) to Los Angeles where she worked as a secretary for six months, before landing a role as a Freelance News Writer with KABC. Getting to the office this time meant taking public transport.
“In LA everybody drives a car, so you had to be really, really poor to catch the bus. I had no idea where to go and was just about throwing up on my first day,” she says.
Her Aussie accent precluded her from any on-air roles but back home in Australia she was finally offered a job at Seven in the mid 1990s.
“I went home to Perth for Christmas and came to Sydney for a week when Terry Plane, who is now the News Director for Seven Adelaide, said ‘We’ve got some freelance shifts over Christmas, do you want to work?’ So I said ‘Mum, can’t come home for Christmas, sorry!’” she explains.
Along with Doyle, she juggles motherhood with her early-morning Sunrise role.
“I’m up at 3 and out of work by mid-morning and at school pick-up virtually every day of the week and footy training, cricket training, tennis, and all the other things the boys are involved in. So it does allow me to do after-school mum stuff. My husband gets the boys up, makes them breakfast and drops them at school,” Barr says.
“If my husband’s working we book a babysitter, or see if they can go to a friend’s house. But we don’t have any family in New South Wales so sometimes it’s a little tricky.”
Proudly admitting to being a ‘soccer mum’ Barr is club co-ordinator of her 6 year old’s kindergarten club, and helps manage school football and soccer teams. The erratic Sunrise hours allow her to remain involved with her children’s lives.
Melissa Doyle agrees that despite not being able to see her kids off to school everyday, the brekkie shift allows her to participate in school activities and family life too.
“If I was reading 6pm news I wouldn’t be able to do that. These hours are the hours I’ve chosen to do for a variety of reasons, with my family and lifestyle being one of them. Sure there are sacrifices. I have no social life, I go to bed at 7:30 every night, but big deal, I feel like I am there for so much of my childrens’ lives that I am really grateful,” she says.
“I have a wonderful job I love, I work with colleagues whom I genuinely like working with. I couldn’t have done it for so long if I didn’t like them and want to be with them. I couldn’t get up at 3:15 five mornings a week if I didn’t love what I was doing.”
As one of Seven’s profile presenters, Doyle is frequently the subject of media speculation, from the price of her contract (supposedly $700,000) to whether she is edging for a primetime role (she isn’t) and how she gets along with her co-star David Koch.
“I remember an article a couple of years ago that said I was outraged at what Kochie was earning. I wouldn’t know what Kochie’s earning!” she insists.
“It’s all speculation, but people have an appetite for that stuff now. I love reading about Hollywood stars as much as the next person. It’s human nature.
“I’m mortified at a salary which is printed in the paper that I’m supposedly earning when I’m not earning anything near that. I’m the sort of person that gets embarrassed by that stuff. I know some people love to talk up things like that, but I don’t.
“I don’t earn that sort of money. The numbers are wrong. But what can I do? I can deny it all I like and people will believe what they read.
“I just hate people thinking I’m leaving and I don’t want to be there. Because I do want to be there. I love Sunrise. I’m not leaving, I’m there to stay.”
Some of that speculation is fuelled by primetime roles in other projects, including The Zoo, Where Are They Now? and a recent report for Sunday Night. But Doyle is more driven by opportunities to interview and tell a story.
“I’ve been a journalist for 21 years and I’d like to think I’m a fair journalist. I’d like to think I’m not biased. I report the facts and I love reporting live News. I love the opportunity to get out of the studio and tell a story whether it’s for Sunrise, or the one that I did for Sunday Night. I love to interview people, that’s what I trained to do,” she says.
“I really enjoyed working on Sunday Night. It’s a wonderful production team and I really appreciated the opportunity they gave me to do a story and I would certainly love to do more. If it means that everyone is going to speculate the whole time that I’m going then I’m not so keen.”
Are rumours are also possibly driven by a tendency for media to view Breakfast television as simply an off-Broadway try-out for primetime? Perhaps.
“In America breakfast television is seen as higher up the rung,” she acknowledges.
But if Gold Logie Awards are any measure, and that’s a debate of itself, the genre also brings an extraordinary connection between performer and viewer.
“I don’t think people see us as, and I hate the word, ‘celebs.’ We’re not celebs to them, we’re just mates in their lounge room who are there every morning and having a bit of a conversation with them,” Doyle says.
“We’re also really honest. When I’ve been up all night with a sick child or when I had my babies people knew and they were really good about it. Things that we go through in our lives are the same as everybody else, but we’ve never tried to hide it.”
“Sure we go to functions, pretty rarely, but I’m no different. I interviewed Hugh Jackman during the week and, oh my god, I had to get a photo. I was completely starstruck. I’m the same as anybody else if they were meeting him.”