Breakfast-time television, an American phenomenon long resisted here as an intrusion into a proper English family's early morning privacy and an invitation to day-long TV addiction, is finally coming to Britain.
A well-financed group of top British television stars headed by transatlantic entrepreneurs Peter Jay, journalist and former British ambassador to Washington, and David Frost, producer and talk show host, yesterday won the franchise for an early morning news magazine beginning in 1983. The three-hour program will be featured seven days a week on Britain's commercial television network.
Meanwhile, British Broadcasting Corp. television, the public network, is considering trying to beat its rival to the punch by beginning in 1982 a joint television-radio version of BBC radio's popular early morning Today news and interview program. BBC is expected to decide next year.
In the mornings, British television currently is either off the air or showing only educational programs for school and adult education. Few kitchens are eqiupped with television sets, and only one British family in five has more than one television.
Morning news and entertainment currently are the monopoly of radio and no fewer than eight daily national newspapers, which have been unsurprisingly full of skepticism and hostility toward the coming competition.
"Will there be breakfast with a serial, shaving by soap opera and washing-up with kitchen-sink drama?" asked the Daily Mirror today. "Will millions go to work with square eyeballs as well as go to bed with them? Will children not only stay up late to watch TV but want to get up early to see it, too?"
The commercial network's decision to go ahead with breakfast-time television and give the franchise to the star-studded Jay-Frost group has abruptly stirred Britain awake from its holiday slumber, even though the program will not begin for another two years.
Jay, the behind-the-scenes chairman of the group, and Frost, its leading on-camera personality, have raided BBC and Britain's commercial network of many of their most familiar faces, including the currently top-rated talk show host, a leading documentary-maker, the popular anchor women of both BBC and commercial television's evening news shows, and the woman star of a popular prime-time consumer affairs program. The investors who have gathered nearly $20 million in initial capital include the Beaverbrook family, rock producer Robert Stigwood and Frost and Jay.
Besides jarring British television, the news drew complaints about another American-inspired assault on British tradition.
The Daily Express forecast a dark future in which breakfast-time television would "revolutionize the social life of the nation with housewives, shift workers and old-age pensioners becoming the target for the ingenuity of the program producers," risking the danger "of the human race being radically changed by becoming cocooned in the life support television unit which viewers used to call homes in the old days."
While acknowledging "a debt of gratitude" to American breakfast-time shows that inspired himself and Frost, Jay said today that "we realize this is Britain and that the British are different from Americans. We expect our program to be less show bizzy and more newsy than ABC's [Good Morning, America'], for example."
Jay said he was seeking to broadcast "popular, intelligent journalism" that would help explain current affairs to a wide audience, including children. "I strongly reject this paternalistic attitude," he added, "that it is up the newspapers or Parliament to tell the British people whether or not they should watch TV."
He and Frost envision a "fast-paced" news magazine show from roughly 6:15 to 9:15 a.m., broken up in news and feature segments some days and almost entirely devoted to an overwhelmingly important breaking news story on other days.
"There is a false assumption on the part of many editors and impresarios," Jay said, "that if you make something intelligent it will have a smaller audience."