There is something to be said about television executives who believed spending 15 million dollars on a celebrity journalist would lift the least-watched network newscast out of the ratings basement. But lessons have been learned at CBS News which is re-fashioning itself as the smart alternative to those conducting business as usual. In the process of moving into a harder news direction, the Tiffany Network is reviving Edward R. Murrow’s 1953 show “Person to Person.” Viewers will be given “unique access” into the lives of the newsmakers and celebrities. Interviews will be conducted via satellite as newsmakers lead co-hosts Lara Logan and Charlie Rose on a tour of their home or office.
“Person to Person” will air as a television special on Wednesday, February 8th. But there is a strong possibility – if it’s a ratings hit – that “Person to Person” will be given a full series order. Wednesday’s episode will feature George Clooney, Warren Buffet, and Jon Bon Jovi. “When someone opens their home, they’re sharing a part of themselves that traditional interview programs can’t reach,” adds Co-Executive Producer Judy Tygard.
We should add that Murrow had little interest in celebrity interviews. But in 1953, CBS President Bill Paley saw a ratings juggernaut with Murrow presenting. The relationship between these two television icons is fascinating and could be categorized as love/hate. It was ultimately the McCarthy reports on the legendary “See It Now” that did Murrow no good turns at the Columbia Broadcasting System. After the loss of ALCOA – which served as the show’s sole sponsor – Paley decided to move the low-rated “See It Now” out of prime-time and served it up as occasional news specials on Sunday afternoons. In today’s t.v. landscape, let’s hope the re-incarnation of “Person to Person” doesn’t end up as an “occasional special” even as a person-of-interest type broadcast. If it can retain half the integrity and style of its predecessor, it will shine amongst the myriad of non-sensical news programmes that are shoved down our throats.
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.
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.