Despite plummeting ratings since outspoken Morgan, 55, left the show earlier this month, bosses at the ITV breakfast programme have decided that ‘consummate professional’ Shephard represents the ‘safest option’.
The move will disappoint those hoping that the high-profile job would go to a black or Asian presenter and risks undermining the credibility of ITV’s pledge to have a more diverse roster of stars on its daytime programmes.
Ben Shephard has been chosen to replace Piers Morgan as co-presenter of Good Morning Britain, The Mail on Sunday understands
Ranvir Singh, GMB’s Political Editor, and Adil Ray, who has hosted the show in the past, had been tipped for the post. It is understood that Shephard will co-present the programme with Susanna Reid from Monday to Wednesday until September when they will assess how the partnership is going down with viewers.
The father-of-two – once teased by co-presenter Kate Garraway for using two cushions on his chair to appear taller – is facing an uphill task.
For Morgan’s last appearance on March 9, 1.29 million people tuned in to GMB, allowing it to overtake its bitter BBC Breakfast rival for the first time. By last Wednesday, that figure had slumped to just 800,000.
Morgan – who won acclaim for his merciless questioning of Ministers over the pandemic – quit following a row over comments in which he said that he ‘didn’t believe a word’ of what the Duchess of Sussex had told Oprah Winfrey in their CBS interview.
For Morgan’s last appearance on March 9, 1.29 million people tuned in to GMB, allowing it to overtake its bitter BBC Breakfast rival for the first time. By last Wednesday, that figure had slumped to just 800,000
Following complaints from mental health groups – and the Duchess – he clarified his words, but refused to buckle to an ultimatum by ITV chiefs to apologise.
Ofcom has so far received 57,000 complaints about his comments.
Last night, a source said: ‘ITV and GMB bosses were totally unprepared for Piers going. Obviously the circumstances were out of the blue and nobody had a back-up plan. Ben, who is adored by the staff and much of the audience, stepped in and the thought is now that he will work long term. He certainly isn’t like-for-like for Piers, but then who is?’
Essex-born Shephard, 46, is admired by Emma Gormley, ITV’s Head of Daytime and one of the executives left to pick up the pieces after Morgan’s controversial departure.
Garraway, whose husband Derek Draper has been stricken in hospital by coronavirus for almost a year, is favourite to co-present GMB with Ms Reid on Thursdays.
TV critic Kevin O’Sullivan, who used to work with Morgan, backed the choice of Shephard.
He said: ‘Ben is an excellent broadcaster and obviously knows what he is doing, but will he bring back that large number of the audience that left when Piers Morgan did? I just don’t think he can.’
A spokesman for ITV said GMB’s viewing figures last week were up six per cent on the corresponding week last year.