In October 2002 David Koch was installed as host of Sunrise alongside Melissa Doyle. It was a move initially rejected by the finance expert, believing the show’s approach to direct news was not the right fit. But with producer Adam Boland, the three would rewrite the rulebook, with a “family-friendly” show that embraced its audience well before the days of social media.
Within 13 months Sunrise would exceed the Today show hosted by Steve Liebmann and Tracy Grimshaw.
‘Kochie’, as it came to be known, was a disruptor of the genre, but one that brought huge success to the Seven network at a time when, under network boss David Leckie, it would change its fortunes in prime time.
On the eve of his final Sunrise show, talk to TV tonight about the highlights, the low lights and the audience of the “heart” of the show.
In the first years
“When I started, I think we were 5% of the Today public show. Nobody looked at us. Seven news the managers didn’t even look at us. Our production office was dismantled in the Epping car park. We weren’t even in the main building so we were allowed to try and fail as no one was looking at us. And I think that was the secret. There was no pressure.
“Give me a bonus when we get to half of today’s audience”
“I remember when they asked me to do it full time and I said no, because I had my own business then. It was a bit like a simple job of reading the news. But we changed it up a bit, so I could be myself. The money wasn’t very good, so I told them, “Give me a bonus when we get to half.” Today‘s crowd, and another bonus when we beat them.’ When they said no, I said ‘Why not? they said, “We don’t want this to discourage you, because it will never happen.”
“But I was old enough and ugly enough, in my forties, in business for a while, did different things and reluctantly agreed. We got to half their audience after nine months and beat them after 13″.
Seven Chief David Leckie
“He said the best decision he’s ever made on TV is to have nothing to do with Sunrise. She learned that it was a very different beast than anything else on television.
“He referred to us as ‘The Mansons’, because we were our own cult within Seven and we didn’t give a damn about anyone!
“He called us names when we annoyed him, but he was one of our biggest supporters. Him and Kerry Stokes were probably the two who loved what we were doing. Back then when we changed the intro from “Melissa Doyle and David Koch” to “Mel & Kochie” the then news director stormed out and told us to change it back because we were detracting from the news brand by Seven. Maureen Plasvic, after 18 months of being there, she asked the board to fire me, because I had an opinion. I was bad for the network and the news brand. Thankfully, Kerry and Ryan Stokes called it off.
“But I remember the first Christmas party. David Leckie said, “Man, I think we have the pillars to build this network.” You need three American shows, Desperate Housewives, Lost, Prison Break to arrive there. Then build your local format around it.’ The dude was a genius. He’s had an incredible touch with television and that’s why he’s been such a huge advocate for us.”
Before social media: change the format of Breakfast TV.
“When we started, it was just emails and we said to viewers, ‘It’s your show. Email us with stories and issues you want us to fix.’ So we put those issues on a chalkboard on set, called the ROS wall — named after Roz Kelly because she had the sports chalkboard scandal in federal politics at the time.
“It was the most powerful marketing tool we had”
“It would stay on the board until we answered that issue or did a segment about it. I think that was the most powerful marketing tool we had, because it was telling viewers, “You matter to this show.” What you want us to cover, we’ll do, and it stays on the board until we’ve done it.’
“TV is a bit arrogant. It kind of gives people what they think they should have. But we told our viewers, “Tell us what you want.” ‘”
“Very early on we talked about who our viewer was”
Irene from Home & Away: the typical Sunrise spectator.
“Very early on we talked about who our viewer was, the most important viewer that we were going to build the show around. Oddly enough, it’s still there today: we invented Irene’s At home and away from home. Even now, we still colloquially and lovingly refer to our viewers as “Irene.” Because moms check a morning’s zapper. You have to get turned on by moms, but that can’t spark an argument with the rest of the family. It has to be a good decision that mom can live with. That’s why we’d have all the artists and music and stuff like that.
“We have sports for dad and some news, but more importantly, we had to get Irene to get excited and make a good decision for the family.”
Co-hosts: Melissa Doyle, Sam Armytage, Natalie Barr.
“You wouldn’t get up at crazy hours in the morning if you didn’t get along. We were really lucky. We are still connected. I see Mel and Sam around, Nat has been on the desk before co-hosting. We are very close, he often describes our relationship as if you were like him older brother. I did Kokoda with her husband, we text during soccer games, that sort of thing. None of us have ever socialized much outside of show business, because frankly we have nothing to talk about. We talk to each other for three and three-quarter hours a day. I talk to them and sit closer to them than I ever did with my wife.”
“He, Mel and I sat down and built the show.”
Producers: Adam Boland, Michael Pell, Sean Power, Sarah Stinson.
“All of them have been absolutely instrumental in the development of the show. In the beginning it was Adam who led the changes through the hierarchy of the Seven. We were looking to do something a little different. He, Mel and I sat down and built the show. He got it accepted and fought for it. Michael then took it to a new level in a different cultural environment with digital…she had worked on the show for years with Adam before that so it was a really smooth transition. Sarah has been associated with us for years and years and she understands who we are. She really is in safe hands.
“I think the common thread of all the executive producers who have been on the show, including the current ones, is that everyone has a passion for it.”
“Hopefully, we’re a show that has a big event on television, whether it’s an adventure, whether it’s shutting down a city because of Bieber or One Direction making their first appearance in Australia on us; whether it’s me broadcasting from Antarctica as the first ever show in the world to do it five consecutive days or whatever. We did Anzac Day at the Kokoda trail. Beaconsfield was a highlight in the show, where we took a planeload of cargo up to Far North Queensland to help rebuild Innisfail after Cyclone Larry.
“It has always been a show with heart”
“It’s always been a show with heart, with really strong values and one that’s so much bigger than any individual in it. This is probably the proudest thing. We had changes on the show and it didn’t affect me deciding to step down. It won’t affect him in the slightest. He’ll keep going, he won’t skip a beat because he’s so strong. The people who work here have the same set of values that we established years ago.”
Indigenous protest, Pauline Hanson and copping criticism
“(Indigenous protest) started from the views of a guest. I was being criticized because we had Pauline Hanson on a regular basis. I would have huge discussions with my kids saying, “Do you want us to censor the views of different parts of the community?” You are an elected representative. She represents part of the community; I disagree with her and I’d rather have it over her and disagree and tear down a lot of crap that she would talk about. She broke up with us basically because she made a condition that she would come on the show, but she couldn’t be interviewed by me. And we said, ‘She’s not up to you to decide on that.’
“Research shows that a lot of people get bloody mad at me.”
“We will not please all people, all the time. You can’t do that in life. We can’t do this as a breakfast show. Research shows that a lot of people get bloody mad at me. But Australia has three great breakfast TV shows. You don’t have to look at one or the other. There is a choice. But even people who get mad at me say ‘He has some brains, what he says is well researched.’”
Hosting the battle of the choirs:
“I loved that show so much. I thought it had heart and soul. But it’s so expensive to get all the choirs together. If they brought it back Battle of the choirs, I’d be in it, in a flash. I loved that show because they were ordinary people doing something that brought them great joy. It was just beautiful.
Hosting Carols in the Domain, Telethon, Good Friday Appeal:
“If I was invited to do them, I would definitely be there. They are such big events that I can understand if they want other people in the network to do it. But I’d be there in a flash. You sing in the domain it’s one of the highlights of our year as it is Telethon AND Good Friday Appeal. They are just great joyous occasions.
Advice to Matt Shirvington:
“Breakfast TV strips you down. You can’t hide. If you’re doing three and three-quarter hours of live TV, you can’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Yesterday I had lunch with Shirvo, just Shirvo, Nat and me. I told him: ‘You will be very concentrated, under pressure. You have to stay true to yourself. The first time you (say something) because you think that’s what people want to hear, they’ll know you’re talking bullshit. You just have to be yourself. You are a good boy, you have good values. You will say the wrong thing. Everyone does it in life. Everyone says the wrong thing to their family or friends or whatever. Nobody’s perfect. But you just took that one for a spin. You just have to be yourself and be a little humble. Don’t let suckers into the TV bubble.’
“’Everyone will want to be your friend…. all power brokers. The people who will decide whether or not you get to live west of the Gladesville Bridge. They are the ones you have to relate to and be on their side.’
“The Guinness Book of World Records is apparently checking it out”
Final show at dawn:
“I don’t know anything about it. Absolutely nothing. I am quite an emotional staff. i cry to The sound of music. It will be a great day. My kids on family WhatsApp were publishing a book when I announced it last Monday about how long I could keep it together without getting emotional. My kids always tease me about it. It will be a fun day. A good day.
“I am 21 in October. I think I’ve done more live TV than anyone else on Australian TV. 16,000 hours of live TV. Over 5300 performances and over 50,000 interviews. Apparently the Guinness Book of World Records is verifying this.
“But I’ve also never been one to see breakfast TV as a stepping stone to something prime time. I never aspired to do anything else but Sunrise. I don’t think I’d be very good at anything else except Sunrise.
“It was a perfect show for me and I loved it. Absolutely loved every single day. For me, breakfast is prime time.
David Koch greets Sunrise from 5:30 on Friday.