'CBS This Morning': A worthy wakeup TV alternative
NEW YORK—Hooray for "CBS This Morning"! It's not silly!
This is not meant to damn with faint praise the brand-new wakeup show CBS is billing as "a more thoughtful, substantive and insightful source of news and information."
What CBS actually seems to be saying: "CBS This Morning" is more thoughtful, substantive and insightful than longtime NBC ratings champ "Today," or than narrowing-the-gap ABC runner-up "Good Morning America."
And it is.
After nearly 60 years and countless overlooked knockoffs of the morning-show format "Today" pioneered, CBS has dared to stray from the beaten path and try something different from its crushing competition. And in its first week, "CBS This Morning" (airing at 7 a.m. EST) proved itself a welcome alternative.
"CBS This Morning" has no jovial weather guy; no throngs of sidewalk fans waving signs; no rock bands; no we're-just-one-big-happy-family camaraderie among the co-hosts.
Increasingly, both "Today" and "Good Morning America" share a default position of fluff interrupted only when breaking, urgent news yanks them into sobriety.
"CBS This Morning" has, in effect, vowed to keep the silliness to a minimum, and its first week is promising.
This happens to be a week when "Today" was strutting its stuff even more than usual, celebrating its 60th anniversary with much hoopla. But for any viewer who yearned for a morning show that places a premium on news and information while holding the line on crime and star-gazing, "Today" as well as "GMA" was instantly upstaged by "CBS This Morning." It's an answered prayer.
The show is hosted by Charlie Rose (weathering an ill-timed cold and, by Friday, a sore throat). His calm, urbane, Southern-cured manner is counterbalanced by the caffeinated Gayle King. The third member of this hosting trio, Erica Hill, a holdover from the defunct "Early Show," falls somewhere in between.
In their first week, they seem like professional colleagues who get along fine. But refreshingly, "CBS This Morning" seems conceived not so much as a showcase for masterfully matched hosts as a destination for the information it dispenses.
The setting (dubbed Studio 57) is beautiful -- spacious, brick-and-woody and blessedly free of any windows.
The show begins in sleek, elegant fashion, quickly seguing into a 90-second "Eye Opener" video montage that sets the stage for the program (and day) ahead.
Then most of the action takes place at a glass-topped roundtable where, in various combinations, members of the anchor team, CBS correspondents and interviewees appear, and then seamlessly depart. There's no "news reader," as on the other two shows, which have a decentralized structure and whose pace seems inspired by a game of hot potato.
Here, the news, like the rest of the show, flows steadily through its hosts at this information hub. The show is brisk but grounded.
Not that its first week was perfect. Maybe the worst segment: a vacuous interview with Julianna Margulies, star of CBS' "The Good Wife," that had no point other than to plug a network series and fill time -- way too much of it.
For anyone not mesmerized by the British royals, Monday's show also included interminable coverage and analysis of Kate Middleton turning 30.
But Wednesday's edition found Gayle King interviewing first lady Michelle Obama, who refuted claims that she's "some angry black woman." It was a revealing segment made even more timely by "The Obamas," a just-published book in which she didn't participate.
Friday's show had an investigative report by Sharyl Attkisson on troubled clean-energy companies that got billions of dollars from the government and then, in several cases, went belly-up. And correspondent Mo Rocca had a smart feature on, fittingly, the stigma of Friday the 13th.
But does "CBS This Morning" have enough that's special to draw enough viewers?
Thursday's edition had a report by correspondent Elizabeth Palmer from inside Syria, where the government has severely limited access by most foreign media. And Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger offered reassuring words about flying in the wake of reports of planes diverted to foreign airports to refuel when crossing the Atlantic Ocean: "It's a passenger convenience issue, not a safety issue," he declared.
But otherwise, viewers of the first hour of "Today" would have gotten pretty much the same menu of news -- however differently packaged -- as those who watched "CBS This Morning."
Of course, during this first hour (where hard news traditionally gets the emphasis) "Today" viewers would also have seen lengthy reports on tabloid boldface names Casey Anthony and Joran van der Sloot, a prime suspect in the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway.
Did those stories really matter? What "CBS This Morning" didn't have -- that, too, provides a good argument for watching.