Fresh faces: Natarsha Belling, James Mathison and Natasha Exelby.
On the face of it, they are the next big things in breakfast television. Natarsha Belling, James Mathison and Natasha Exelby were handpicked by producer Adam Boland, after extensive ”chemistry” tests, to host Ten’s new breakfast program Wake Up.
But this is a trio that knows full well they have to do everything they can to build a loyal audience, not least because of the popularity of Sunrise on Seven and Today on Nine, but also because of the disastrous ratings for Ten’s previous show, Breakfast (which was unceremoniously axed two years ago, after less than a year on air).
So who are the three new presenters that Ten is pinning its hopes on?
Network Ten producer Adam Boland and his breakfast team on Wake Up, from left, Natasha Exelby, James Mathison, Adam Boland, Natarsha Belling and Nuala Hafner. Photo: Sasha Woolley
There is an assured newsreader and mother of two (Belling), a former Australian Idol host and father of one (Mathison) and a single, worldy journalist, who before this job, wanted to be a foreign correspondent (Exelby).
They will be presenting Wake Up from a much-talked about, purpose-built set in Manly (beach views daily) while newsreader Nuala Hafner will be based in Melbourne.
”If you had said to me two years ago, ‘Where do you want to be?’ I probably would have said I’d want to be working in the Gaza Strip or somewhere for CNN or Al-Jazeera, somewhere around the world,” 30-year-old Exelby says.
She grew up in a small town in regional Queensland and wasn’t even sure she wanted to be a journalist, but credits her mum for pointing her in the right direction. Having taken to reporting with gusto, including her long-term stint at Ten, she is now ready to show a different side of her personality.
”Probably in the past 18 months I’ve had opportunities through The Project, primarily by going on as a panel member there … to show more of myself and I’ve really enjoyed doing that. So it sort of came about from there,” she says. ”I certainly never thought I’d be a morning TV show host at all, but having said that I’m pretty happy with where it’s ended up,” she said.
For 38-year-old Belling, who was raised in country NSW but has spent many years in Sydney as a trusted newsreader at Ten, it is an incredible opportunity to show another side to her skills. She says the early morning starts also mean a different timetable for her daily life, as a mother to Harrison and Hugo.
”It is probably as much a family decision as it is a professional [one], Belling says. ”I am ridiculously excited.”
She says the old saying ”three’s a crowd” will not apply to the hosting panel. ”We all bring a really different viewpoint to the table, which I think is quite reflective of what our viewers want. I think we’ve got to change with the times and I think the whole cliche of a male and female host, for me personally, could be out-dated.”
Mathison previously found fame as a laconic and drily humorous co-host on Australian Idol, so he is aware of the level of public interest which can surround a hit show. While he has plenty of television experience, the 35-year-old says he is a changed man since becoming a dad earlier this year to his daughter, Luca.
”I love it [being a dad] – so much, I want to go again,” Mathison says. ”I can’t think of an area of your life that [parenthood] doesn’t change.”
Mathison says he is ready to build a new relationship with viewers. ”I think there might be a perception that I’m coming from just a reality TV show background … whereas I don’t think the girls have that, they have that journalistic integrity,” Mathison says.
But for all the talk of ”pressure” surrounding the show’s debut, he would rather focus on what’s happening creatively.
”If we strike up an imaginary deal that ratings are for the sales department and the network top dogs, that’s their job, and our job is to make a good show, then we can really concentrate on that,” Mathison says.
Even before the show goes to air, a quirky issue has been raised by some commentators, about the fact Natasha and Natarsha have almost exactly the same name. (They’ll be known as Tash and Tarsh on the show).
Exelby says it first cropped up during live crosses on Ten news, when Belling was newsreader and she was a reporter. ”It’s certainly been a discussion point,” Exelby says. ”Whereas, you know, if Peter Overton is interviewing Peter Stefanovic [on Nine] no one seems to have a problem with that.
”I think Adam [Boland] has actually embraced it and [while] I can understand how people will find it confusing at first, once they get to know us, it will be very easy to distinguish.”
Despite going into a hotly contested timeslot, none of the three is critical of their rival shows, Sunrise and Today, instead acknowledging the loyalty those shows have in the television landscape. ”I am reluctant to criticise, because we have tremendous respect for what they do – and I haven’t done it yet,” Exelby says. ”Whether it’s better or worse, I can promise you ours will be different.”
Mathison says it’s simply about viewers having more choice.
”I don’t know if it’s a case of anything lacking [on the other shows], I think it’s a case of having another option.
”People realistically in the morning, they flick [on their remote controls]. You flick back and forth and I feel like it’s more about adding something, another option. Flick again,” Mathison says.
Belling says one of the most compelling parts of the show will be the discussions among the panel members. ”I know there’s high expectations and I know the amount of work that’s gone into this show behind the scenes, just as much as what we’ve put into it,” Belling says. ”I just want to do the best possible job I can … and, to be honest, it’s a privilege going into people’s homes.”
Wake Up begins on Ten on Monday morning at 6.30am.