Sunrise: The long, dramatic history of Australia's number one morning show

Take a look at how Sunrise became Australia's favourite show to wake up with.

Seven's breakfast show Sunrise launched way back in 1996 and over the years, many of the station's top current affairs and news personalities have graced the chair as co-hosts. The show has been a huge rating winner for the network too, regularly beating its main rival, Channel Nine's Today.

Now fronted by Natalie Barr and Matt Shirvington, it seems there's no sunset in sight for Sunrise, so let's take a look back at what's happened over the years, starting with all the changes to the show's hosting roster, and finishing with some of the show's wildest moments.

Sunrise hosts Natalie Barr and Matt Shirvington
Natalie Barr and Matt Shirvington are the current hosts of Sunrise. Photo: Instagram/@sunriseon7

The co-hosts with the most - Nat Barr

Natalie Barr, 55, managed to remain fairly low-key despite her years as a prominent newsreader for Channel 7, that is, until she took over as the co-host of Sunrise from Samantha Armytage in 2021.

"I may have this amazing career, but Andrew and the boys come first," she said, speaking of her husband of 28 years, film editor Andrew Thompson and their sons Lachlan, 21, and Hunter, 18, to Women's Weekly. "My sons and my husband are my life."

Sunrise co-host Natalie Barr
Natalie Barr was a familiar face on TV well before she took over the co-hosting role in 2021. Photo: Getty
Reads 'they said what?' with a Pop Art style mouth and woman's face
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Matt Shirvington

If taking over from David Koch, affectionately known as Kochie, was a concern for Matt Shirvington or the show's producers, they needn't have worried. When the ratings rolled in after Matt's first day, Sunrise had beaten Nine's Today show by 32%.

"Having the chance to fill in for you [Kochie] on a regular Friday has given me the chance to do my training and to be prepared for this," Matt revealed when he was announced as the long-time host's permanent replacement.

"I'm daunted. So excited. Happy. Cannot tell you the honour and privilege this is," Matt said at the time. "I think I'm more nervous than I have ever been, including the Olympics," he added.


Sunrise co-host and former athlete Matt Shirvington
Former Olympic sprinter Matt Shirvington replaced David Koch as co-host of Sunrise in June this year. Photo: Getty

David Koch

David (Kochie) Koch became the main co-host of Sunrise in 2002 alongside Mel Doyle.

In 2023, after another 21 years at the helm — making him the longest-serving morning TV host in Australia — Kochie, 67, decided it was time to step down. "I have loved very single minute of my time at Sunrise, and I'm incredibly proud of what we've achieved over the last 21 years," Kochie said.

Natalie Barr, David Koch and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Sunrise
David Koch co-hosted Sunrise for more than 20 years. Photo: Instagram/@sunriseon7

"I’ve been privileged to experience so many adventures, to meet so many incredible people and to cover so many moments of history in the making. It really is the world’s best job."

Since leaving the show though, he admits he's not missing the 3.30am starts, saying: "I feel like a new man." But he's obviously finding it hard to say goodbye to the show completely after so long, still appearing regularly as a finance expert.

Samantha Armytage

While Samantha Armytage was a hugely popular co-host on Sunrise, she didn't always find it easy. "There were times in my career when I put up with a lot of crap," she told TV Week.

Samantha Armytage smiling on race day
Samantha Armytage left Sunrise after eight years and now presents Seven's race day coverage and hosts The Farmer Wants A Wife. Photo: Getty

"I did push back on some of it, but not all of it. You have to let a lot of it go, otherwise, you'll never get anything done. I suppose you have to wear it like a badge of honour that people are interested in you — that's flattering.

"But when it all got too much, I had to step away," she added, deciding to leave the show after eight years in 2021. Since then, she has presented Seven's race day coverage and is also the host of The Farmer Wants a Wife.

Melissa Doyle

Melissa Doyle was at the helm of Sunrise for 14 years, firstly with Chris Reason and then David Koch. When she resigned in 2013, rumours swirled that she was forced off the show, after she tearfully told viewers she had been offered "a great opportunity", and would only be leaving Sunrise "with great sadness".

Former Sunrise co-host Melissa Doyle
Former Sunrise co-host Melissa Doyle left the show in a cloud of controversy. Photo: Getty

However, a Seven spokesperson refuted this at the time saying: "Mel was offered a prime-time news gig because her talents in reporting live on big news events here, around the world in the past year alone (Bali anniversary, Obama inauguration, new Pope, floods) were recognised. But it was her choice to take the gig. She could have happily stayed with Sunrise. She decided it was time and the announcement was made on her terms."

Others who have spent a couple of years or less as co-hosts of the show include Chris Reason, Georgie Gardner, Chris Bath, Peter Ford and Mark Beretta, who is still on the show as a sports presenter.

Most controversial Sunrise moments

There's been many a happy moment on Sunrise over the years, but there's also been some awfully awkward and controversial ones. Like the time Kochie cracked a crass joke on air about then Prime Minister John Howard's wife. Ouch.

Former Australian prime minister John Howard and wife Jeanette Howard
Former prime minister John Howard, here with his wife Jeanette, reportedly still bears a grudge against Kochie all these years on. Photo: Getty

"Sunrise was never afraid to take the piss out of pollies, but David Koch took that to a whole new level in 2004," former Sunrise executive producer Adam Boland revealed in his tell-all memoir Brekky Central. "There was hell to pay after he read out one viewer's joke on air. To this day, John Howard refuses to talk to Kochie, even when he's seated at the same table at functions. I suspect the joke is only part of the reason."

Seven's owner Kerry Stokes also reportedly made Kochie write an apology letter to the Howards.

Stolen generation outrage

Sunrise was accused of "blatant racism" in 2018 after a segment on the show where they proposed that white families should be able to adopt indigenous children to save them from child abuse.

According to SBS, when introducing the segment, Samantha Armytage said: "A federal government minister has suggested white families be allowed to adopt abused Aboriginal children to save them from rape, assault and neglect.

"Currently, they can only be placed with relatives or other Indigenous families, but Children’s Minister, David Gillespie, says relaxing the rules is a better alternative to creating an abandoned or damaged generation," which was inaccurate and misleading.

Fellow guest Prue MacSween added: "Just like the first Stolen Generation where a lot of children were taken because it was for their well-being, we need to do it again."

The all-white panel's comments caused outrage amongst child protection experts, aboriginal organisations such as AbSec and on social media. Protests were held outside the Sunrise studios.

Their suggestions of a new era of forced adoption had also already been debunked in the landmark ‘Bringing Them Home’ report into the Stolen Generations, which found that "inter-racial adoption is known to be contrary to the best interests of Aboriginal children in the great majority of cases".

The offensive comments were found to have breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice by including a factual inaccuracy and inciting contempt or ridicule on the basis of someone's race.

Samantha Armytage on Sunrise
Sunrise debated a proposal for white families to take in abused kids. Photo: Channel 7

Accused of racism

And the Stolen Generation debate was not the first time the show had been accused of racism. In 2015, while introducing bi-racial twins who looked very different from each other, host Samantha Armytage congratulated one of the twins on having lighter skin, later saying she was 'mortified' about it.

"The Aylmer twins come from a mixed-race family in the UK," Sam said on Sunrise.

"Maria has taken after her half-Jamaican mum with dark skin, brown eyes and curly, dark hair but Lucy got her dad’s fair skin — good on her — along with straight red hair and blue eyes."

In a statement to Sam said: “I would be mortified if anyone thought I would say or think anything racist.

“It’s not in my nature. To anyone who I might have offended, I’m sorry.”

Sunrise executive producer Michael Pell released a statement apologising for the on-air comments saying: “We are making this statement to avoid further misunderstanding about Sam’s comment on Sunrise.

“Sam has always admitted that her own fair complexion was a disadvantage in the Australian environment.

“We apologise if anyone misunderstood or if they were offended.”

Sam Armytage quits

Sunrise's leading lady Samantha Armytage shocked viewers when she stood down from the show live on air in March 2021.

"As many of you know, my personal life the last six months has been very bittersweet," she told viewers on the show. "Some bits have been very happy and some bits have been very, very sad and I want to step out of this public world for a while, take some time and calm things down."

Sam also admitted to becoming disillusioned by the world of television: "TV isn't a place that's necessarily very healthy. It's full of sociopaths and narcissists — it can be a dangerous environment, let me tell you."

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce being interviewed by Natalie Barr
Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce repeatedly called Sunrise's Natalie Barr 'Fran' during their interview. Photo: Channel 7

Mistaken Identities

Natalie Barr had to keep a straight face after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce called her the wrong name in a live interview. "Well, Fran, as I said, it's unambiguous that they left Australia in a better position," he said, in answer to one of Nat's first questions.

While Nat didn't bat an eyelid at that slip of the tongue, when Barnaby made the same mistake again later in the interview and corrected himself, Nat was mighty quick with her reply.

"Fran, you don't litigate it on television, but it's fair to say, at the start — I'm calling you Fran — that was just the interview I did. Nat, sorry about that," Mr Joyce said.

"It's okay Fred," Nat quipped back. "Keep going."

Stubborn winner

But despite all the ups and downs of the popular morning show, it seems that Sunrise continues to shine strong in the morning ratings wars.

"The numbers don't lie," a spokesperson for Seven told The Daily Telegraph in May this year. "Sunrise has been number one for 19 years and is number one again this year, across the capital cities and nationally."

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