Just days after Holly Willoughby quit This Morning, ITV began discussing how they could lure Cat Deeley to replace her on the show’s coveted couch.
Holly had barely cleaned her dressing room when the Birmingham-born former children’s TV presenter headed the list to save the show.
She was, to the network, the only star they thought could bring them the shine and success that Ms. Willoughby achieved in her heyday.
Her dream was to team up with Cat and her husband Patrick Kielty, a ‘Cat and Pat’ brand to recreate the good old days of Richard and Judy.
But with Patrick happily settled and earning a substantial salary as host of Ireland’s Late Late Show, they knew that would be almost impossible.
Cat Deeley and Ben Shephard have been unveiled as the new presenters of This Morning, ITV revealed on Friday, with a teaser clip showing their images erected in the corridors of ITV.
Cat and Ben have been the subject of whispers for some time now.
So in recent weeks there have been cries of joy as it finally became clear that they had managed to make at least half of that dream a reality.
Cat agreed to join This Morning. Joining her will be Ben Shephard, presenter of ITV’s previous show Good Morning Britain, who had been waiting in the wings.
He had been putting off signing his contract until he knew who would be his protagonist. ‘Once Patrick was out of the game, ITV wanted Ben and Cat, or Cat and Ben.
They did not know how to obtain the names; Months ago they were nicknamed BenCat. “That’s what they were working for.”
However, although Ben, 49, had agreed in principle to move from Good Morning Britain, which he has presented for the past ten years, getting Cat’s signature was much more difficult.
In the end, ITV had to push back its relaunch date by months while Cat, 47, finished work on US reality show So You Think You Can Dance, which she has hosted since 2006.
An ITV source revealed: “Negotiations revolved around Cat’s diary and her commitments to So You Think You Can Dance and fulfilling her US contract.
He wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing by them.
“Cat always wanted to do it, but it was a matter of logistics and it wasn’t easy.”
In fact, they weren’t.
Following Cat’s impressive performance hosting four shows for This Morning last November, while ITV held auditions for the next Holly, she had told bosses she was keen to take on the role full-time.
However, it was the much-loved Rylan Clark she wanted to sit with instead of Ben, she confided to her friends, after hosting two episodes with him.
She also had to weigh her domestic life, as Kielty, with whom she has two young children, works in Ireland from Tuesday to Friday.
Her months of commitments on So You Think You Can Dance also meant she would not be available for early 2024, when ITV initially wanted to relaunch the show.
So, during the first week of December, ITV bosses went back to the drawing board. “They were gutted,” a source told This Morning.
‘There was so much excitement about bringing Cat in that it was like a breath of fresh air when she arrived at the studios.
‘Let’s not forget how traumatic it had been for the production staff months before. First Phil left, then Holly, the ratings were going down and to the outside world the show was absolutely toxic.
Ben Shephard and Holly Willoughby on This Morning last year
Cat confided to her friends that it was the much-loved Rylan Clark she wanted to sit down with, instead of Ben, after hosting two episodes with him.
Sian Welby, pictured, will also have a prominent role on This Morning
‘Then Cat and her big smile arrived and everything was better for a few days. There was hope that the old days would return, the early days of Phil and Holly. Then everything fell apart and he returned to reality.
‘Once again, ITV executives were asking for ideas on who they could hire. They even invited me to lunch to express my thoughts. Meanwhile, Cat was pre-recording auditions for So You Think You Can Dance in America and had almost given up hope of being able to sign with This Morning.
I’m told ITV’s daytime boss Emma Gormley and This Morning editor Martin Frizell were looking for new stars, but chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall and her number two Kevin Lygo were still determined to land them. Cat and turn around her beleaguered show, which was once the jewel in ITV’s daytime crown.
Lygo felt there was something special about bringing Cat back to the channel where she made her name in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
Many will remember that, like Holly, Cat began her career in children’s television, beginning as co-presenter of the children’s show SMTV Live in 1998 for which she won a BAFTA Children’s Award.
But it was the spin-off, CD:UK, that catapulted her to fame. Ant and Dec offered her her job and, for seven years, she would be a sister-type character alongside the duo, winning over viewers with her fun-loving manner.
ITV’s dream was to team up with Cat and her husband Patrick Kielty, both pictured.
Like Holly, men wanted to date Cat while women wanted to be her best friend. In 2003, she presented Fame Academy on BBC1 and also became a presenter of the ITV talent show Stars In Their Eyes, which she presented until 2005. The following year she moved to the United States, where she presented So You Think You Can Dance.
Some on This Morning were against his hiring. A senior executive explained her fears that Cat might be too ‘Hollywood and polished’ for This Morning’s audience after her years in America, and this became a major talking point for company bosses. chain.
‘What if she’s too unrelatable?’ commented a source. “She is literally brilliant and Tinseltown and it should not be forgotten that part of Holly’s problem in her later years was that viewers perceived her as too perfect. ‘But the battle to get This Morning back to its best outweighed whether Cat would be too glamorous.
Of course, Cat’s new commitments to This Morning mean she won’t be able to present the next series of So You Think You Can Dance, which begins filming in December.
And it’s no coincidence that ITV started getting excited again about signing her shortly after the US show’s boss, Nigel Lythgoe, resigned following multiple sexual assault allegations, including one from singer Paula Abdul.
“The schedules match,” mused a This Morning insider. “Maybe that’s what made him change, maybe So You Think You Can Dance won’t come back for another series if it doesn’t follow Nigel’s path.”
Meanwhile, former Channel 5 weather presenter and This Morning entertainment correspondent Sian Welby almost landed the prestigious role when she was handed the reins alongside Dermot O’Leary last month.
Frizell, seen by some as a TV Svengali, was impressed by her and began to think she could be the bubbly “next Holly.”
A source from the show tells me: “No one expected Sian to become a contender, but she instantly impressed and suddenly became a serious replacement for Holly. I’m told viewers will be seeing a lot more of Sian in the coming months as That This Morning bosses are trying to “grow it up” to future-proof their show.
“But for now it’s all about BenCat, who will make their debut on the show next month for around £550,000 a year each.
As revealed today, Cat said of the show: ‘This Morning is a national institution. Whenever they broadcast it, it’s like having your friends over: funny, smart, silly, sincere, informative and happy – like all great friendships!’
Speaking of which, ITV bosses will surely hope that Ben and Cat (or Cat and Ben) don’t end up fighting like cat and dog, and falling out as spectacularly, or even as publicly, as their predecessors.