NEW YORK (CBSNewYork.com/AP) Within the first minute of the “CBS This Morning” launch next week, producer Chris Licht promises, viewers will see something completely new to morning television. The program will be seen locally on CBS2.
He’s keeping the details a surprise, other than to say it will be a quick and entertaining way to catch up with the world. Done well each day, Licht hopes it can become a calling card.
The new year looks to be pivotal for network morning shows. CBS and ABC’s “Good Morning America” are positioning themselves as distinct alternatives to the longtime king, NBC’s “Today” show, which faces uncertainty over anchor Matt Lauer’s future.
CBS is scrapping ” The Early Show” on Jan. 9 in favor of a new broadcast anchored by Charlie Rose, Erica Hill and Gayle King and said it wants to be more substantive. “Good Morning America” is the fastest-growing program, emphasizing a breezy approach behind James Goldston, the producer who made “Nightline” a success in recent years.
“GMA”‘ was the last competitor to seriously challenge “Today,” which hasn’t lost a single week in the ratings since 1995. “Today” averaged 5.42 million viewers for its first two hours in 2011, up 1 percent from the year before, the Nielsen ratings company said. The “GMA” average of 4.85 million viewers was up 10 percent over 2010, while CBS’ “The Early Show” slid 7 percent to 2.55 million.
Whatever the impact, there seems little doubt that ABC’s audience is growing. The same cannot be said at CBS, even though news executives have pushed “The Early Show” in a meatier direction over the past few months.
CBS has the opportunity to start clean on Jan. 9. The morning show gets a complete revamp, with a new studio, name and Licht, former producer of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” CBS’ mantra is to offer something different.
“Right now viewers basically have two choices,” Licht said. “They have the “Today” show and they have the “Today” show (imitator) with probably a little bit more broad appeal stuff. Those two shows are very similar but are both good at what they do. We need to try to find a third thing. Maybe viewers don’t know if they like it or not because it doesn’t exist right now.”
CBS has let out a handful of details about how it will work. Rose and Hill will be on the show’s first hour, starting at 7 a.m., with former talk-show host King starting at 8 a.m. There’s no weather forecaster. No cooking segments. Veteran newsman John Miller will have a prominent role.
The network won’t be forcing spinach on its viewers, figuratively speaking. But it won’t promote a “cult of personality” either, Licht said.
“If people want to feel like they’re part of a family, it will evolve organically,” he said. “I am not trying to sell that Charlie and Gayle go out for drinks and they’re just part of one big happy family:Here we are, with a slow motion of them hugging each other. That’s not what this is.”
The new anchor team was met with widespread skepticism throughout the industry: How does hiring a former syndicated talk-show host and noted PBS interviewer square with the desire to run a hard news broadcast?
Shelley Ross, former executive producer of both “Good Morning America” and “The Early Show, said Rose is a “kick back and think guy,” Ross said. “And that’s not the morning.”
Licht said Rose is a terrific interviewer who has relationships with the people who run the world in media, business and politics.
“I don’t think anyone would dispute that,” he said. “The skepticism is ‘Is he right for the morning?’ And I don’t think you’re going to know that until you see that.”
For both CBS and ABC, a rare competitive opportunity may present itself. It’s not clear whether Lauer wants to continue when his contract ends this year. NBC has discussed a role on the “Today” show with “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest, with some reports that he could replace Lauer.
Hugely important decisions loom. “Today” hums along when there are good transitions – Katie Couric to Meredith Vieira, or Bryant Gumbel to Lauer – but runs aground from mistakes like Deborah Norville replacing Jane Pauley.
“Usually the other programs catch up when the `Today’ show screws up,” said Stephen Battaglio, author of “From Yesterday to Today: Six Decades of America’s Favorite Morning Show.”
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)