When a couple gets divorced, their friends and loved ones rush to tell them they wouldn’t take sides. When a TV marriage breaks down, I discovered, the opposite is true – people are desperate to declare their allegiances. So convinced they know the “real”, “true” inner machinations of an on-screen couple, when you’d think the “on-screen” part might be a bit of a clue.
Before Piers and Susanna’s conscious uncoupling, weekly gossip magazines had occasionally featured them on their covers, leaning into one another, “unable to hide” their “sizzling chemistry” – presumably from me, also occasionally featured looking wan and broken by the betrayal. When this happened I would message Susanna: “Et tu, Brute?” or “Please, take him off my hands”, chuckling at her hilarious comebacks.
After their split – even when what had caused it wasn’t in question – total strangers would remember a particular “put-down” that spelt trouble, reference one of the many times Piers had butted into an interview or mansplained something to Susanna. Sometimes the end of their morning TV romance was charted back to a single “black look”.
The language being employed with the Phil and Holly fallout today is the exact same. Suddenly we’re in a Shakespearean tragedy; people are talking about “campaigns of destruction” and being “knifed in the back”. There are “skeletons in closets” and dark murmurings that “it’ll all come out”.
What is it about TV marriages that gets us so amped-up, so invested? No one can deny that there is often tension behind the curtains, whether it’s with co-hosts or actors falling out (or in love) with their co-stars on set. But I suspect it’s that TV couples mirror our own domestic frustrations and we’re “projecting”, to use therapy speak – or perhaps we just don’t have enough drama in our own lives.
So, despite some predictions, the Phil and Holly saga won’t spell the end to the format. We’re hooked to TV couples, because we never really know what goes on inside a marriage.