Can CBS Re-Invent Morning Television?

There are many who believe Jeff Zucker is the man to revitalize CNN and bring about much-needed change. But is he capable of putting the “news” back into Cable News Network? Someone who has accomplished that and more is Chris Licht. As Executive Producer of CBS This Morning, Licht quietly relaunched the Tiffany network’s flagship morning show and gave it an enduring identity that would counter Today and GMA. While ABC and NBC continue their ratings battle, CBS This Morning still finds itself in third place. But one year after its relaunch, there is confidence as ratings have shown a steady increase. At times, some broadcasts are stronger than others. Yet one aspect is clear; viewers will be treated to a diverse group of stories. Some soft. Some hard. CBS also seems comfortable being the network that evokes gravitas. And Charlie Rose, Gayle King and newly-added Norah O’Donnell are capable of projecting a calibrated level of gravitas.

There are not many things that need changing. But more international stories or guests would not hurt. How about an interview with the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist? A review of the namesake movie directed by Mira Nair which stars Kate Hudson? Get the drift? The music playlist could be diversified a la NPR; my buddy David Lowe could remedy that issue. Being in third place also allows producers a level of flexibility to tinker with show elements to see what works and what doesn’t. For now, CBS This Morning seems to have found some success. The bigger question is whether CBS can ever be number one in the morning wars? Probably…not.  But Licht and his team can hold their heads up high and be proud of what they have accomplished: putting the news back into our mornings.

Post Updated: 2/24

Musical Chairs at CBS

Would you like to a play a game of musical chairs? Less than seven months into its debut, CBS is shaking up its talent again by replacing This Morning co-anchor Erica Hill with White House correspondent Norah O’Donnell. When the news first broke, we were surprised and highly irritated by the move as were just getting use to the show. We have supported This Morning and told our friends and family to watch being the only decent morning show on American network television. As global-oriented viewers, it still has a way to go for us to describe it as great. We still do not see enough “international” guests on the show; Fareed Zakaria, Gillian Tett, Katty Kay, Reza Aslan, or Tom Friedman.

But we’ll stick around for the foreseeable future. O’Donnell is a seasoned reporter and we wish Hill the best. However, if CBS believes that viewers will endure another talent change six months from now, the network has another thing coming; it must stick with the new team for a very, very long time.

Defending CBS This Morning

On July 9th, CBS This Morning will celebrate its six month anniversary on-air and the writers behind this blog have been supporters of the show from its debut. The executives at the Tiffany network took a bold step to reshape their morning broadcast after a myriad of unsuccessful attempts to gain a wider audience. What CBS learned – the hard way – was you cannot imitate the market leader. Hence, a new team started from scratch and decided to do away with all the tabloid-like features that air prominently on Today and GMA. But to think that This Morning and its talent have been indirectly responsible for the removal of Ann Curry from NBC’s Today is preposterous.

CBS is chasing after a different audience that is more upscale and prefers to be informed as opposed to be dumbed-down by morning fluff. And nobody should discount the benefits of a smaller, but highly-educated audience. Ads geared towards this demographic command a premium rate. Anyone recall the Cartier Panther ad that aired for a whopping four minutes straight during an episode of The Good Wife? It would be silly not to think that SOME viewers from The Early Show may have defected to GMA or even Today for that matter. But pointing fingers at Charlie Rose, Erica Hill and Gayle King adds little to the conversation.

What is astonishing is that Today thought it could retain the title for number one morning show forever. Now that a worthy competitor has stolen their thunder, all hell seems to have broken loose at 30 Rock. Do executives secretly despise some healthy competition? Will any attempt to stay at number one mean talent needs replacing if warranted? It’s time for the Today folks to do much-needed soul-searching.

We were intrigued by Katie Couric’s comments suggesting that morning shows needed to develop a harder edge; this leads us back to CBS This Morning. For all practical purposes, you cannot even compare the broadcast on CBS to GMA or Today. Why? Well, it may be down to the fact that This Morning is inclusive, incisive, and challenging while the others appear as if they were produced by TMZ. CBS folks (Jeff Fager, Chris Licht, David Rhodes) have to contend with the fact that their broadcast may never be the number one morning show in America. But isn’t it better to have a show that is sophisticated and attempts to serve oatmeal over popsicles to viewers in the morning?

Hope with CBS This Morning

We had mixed feelings with the premiere of CBS This Morning. But Friday’s broadcast proved that CBS is aiming to stick to their word of being different. There were very strong pieces for hard news junkies featuring Lara Logan and Sheryl Atkinson. Check plus plus. A great profile and roundtable discussion on Tim Tebow. How refreshing to see sports news so prominently featured on a morning show. Check plus. Also noteworthy was a piece on religion. And finally, two smart pieces to enrich the brain by Mo Rocca and an interview with Deepak Chopra. What a perfect blend of hard and slightly soft news. We continue to be loyal cheerleaders and the fiercest critics of CBS This Morning. After Friday’s broadcast, there will be more cheerleading than critiquing.

CBS This Morning Needs More Gravitas, But Shows Signs of a Long Life

It’s better to sink with pride as an original production rather than imitating the market leader. That is probably how the brass at CBS News feels towards the new CBS This Morning. Presented by a trio of anchors on a flashy triquadra desk, the show promised to deliver on a quest to provide serious news. It did – at least for a while.

 
Viewers were greeted to a subtle and pleasing theme score as veteran Charlie Rose introduced himself. Co-hosts Gayle King and Erica Hill touted the shows second, but softer hour and a story on stem-cell research respectively. Hardly an original piece, but what followed was a 90 second segment entitled “Eye Opener” designed to engage viewers and get them hooked. Check plus. But like the shows incomplete opening titles and music (you didn’t know when it was going to start or end), CBS needs to keep building a better morning. The seven am hour covered the usual suspects; politics, more politics, and health. But a major disappointment came in the complete lack of international news unless you count Kate Middleton’s 30th birthday. That segment dragged on and did not warrant a roundtable discussion. Folks, there’s a new kid on the block and his name is Kim Jung-Un.  

 
The anchors were competent in delivering the news, but some re-shuffling may be in order. Erica Hill is a great newsreader so let her lead the cavalry as they find their groove. Charlie needs to focus on the hard-hitting interviews and conversations without the use of a teleprompter. He shines without it on PBS.  Gayle needs to focus, with Erica’s help, on the eight am hour.  As the show draws to an end, Charlie can hop back on to the desk to start a round-table discussion amongst his co-hosts titled “pause for thought.”

 
But kudos goes to Chris Licht who is personally overseeing the production whilst also serving as vice-president of news programming. This Morning looks very different from the competition. It has energy, well-paced, and is a vast improvement over the show it replaced. The set is bright and airy even if it does look like a Manhattan loft. Some of the CBS memorabilia may have to go as it looks just a tad cluttered. The choppy music score is an easy fix when you have the talented David Lowe in mind. If music is essential for the background, why not go on the sophisticated route of NPR instead of cranking up the volume on Adele or Beyoncé.  With some minor tweaks, the sun can shine brighter on This Morning. But if Nielsen ratings don’t budge, you can’t blame any of the talent. Local affiliates don’t have the top-rated news shows in their respective markets and viewers have been subjected to junk for so long, they may not be able to tell the difference between sugar and spinach.  

P.S. In a tweet, Executive Producer Chris Licht assured of us that some great international news stories would air this week. We’re watching.