New CBS This Morning offers brisk, substantive and businesslike debut
Is it a bad sign when your new morning anchor looks like he could use a few more hours sleep on the first day?
As the newly-retooled CBS This Morning debuted today, noting anchor Charlie Rose's seemingly red-rimmed eyes might not be entirely fair. No doubt, the network's morning crew has been working hard to devise a new show from the ashes of The Early Show, offering uber interviewer Rose, Oprah Winfrey pal Gayle King and holdover Erica Hill in an interesting trio of anchor voices.
In the show's first hour, King made only sporadic appearances, saying hello to viewers at the show's start and promoting an in-studio interview with singer Melissa Etheridge.
Instead, the new program's first hour was given over to a brisk lineup of substantive news stories, from a close look at the upcoming New Hampshire primary and an interview with GOP candidate Newt Gingrich to a recap of a 60 Minutes expose on scams centered on bogus stem cell therapies and the shortcomings of the BCS college football bowl system.
Rose didn't get much space to flex his legendary interview chops, though Gingrich did tell him he planned to run a "Charlie Rose-style" campaign (could that show up in rival campaign ads soon?) And King's lack of screen time early on meant a good bit of the show's personality didn't emerge until later, when her first full anchor segment was introduced with a 50 Cent song.
All this activity stemmed from Studio 57, the new space built by the network to house the program, dominated by a huge desk emblazoned with the CBS eye on top. At the new show's start, Rose, King and Hill sat at the table's three sides, forming a circle which ensured no two anchors could face the camera at the same time -- later, King and Rose sat together in a more conventional two-shot.
The initial set up seemed a physical shorthand for the early pace of the show, which was short on the lighthearted banter and topics which crowd rival morning shows 20 minutes in, devoting the first hour to brisk takes on serious subjects. Top anchor Scott Pelley was on hand to provide an abridged recap of his 60 Minutes piece on scams pushing unverified therapies using stem cells -- complete with Chris Hansen-style surprise interview of a scammer who thought he was meeting a pair of desperate parents.
The first sign of the new regime came with a feature called the "Eye Opener," cramming news from the past 24 hours into 90 seconds (ending with a shot of Denver's Florida-bred quarterback Tebowing into the playoffs).
It wasn't until the 8 a.m. hour that This Morning got to some more typical A.M. topics: royal Kate Middleton's 30th birthday and an interview with Julianna Margulies from The Good Wife (love the CBS tie-in). The Marguilies interview was a bit skittish -- all three anchors lobbed questions at her, which made it hard to establish a conversational flow.
King also announced she'd be headed to Washington for a Wednesday interview with first lady Michelle Obama -- one day after publication of a controversial new book on The Obamas detailing tensions between the first lady and White House staffers.
It's easy to judge such inaugural programs too harshly, but the fact is, any newscast is more marathon than sprint. The biggest question when looking at such reboots is whether a strong framework is in place to grow and develop.
By that score, the new This Morning more than fits the bill, offering a bold alternative for all the viewers who have complained that morning newscasts are too superficial and too clogged with thinly-disguised commercials. The format feels less schizophrenic than you might expect and most of the speed bumps from today's show felt a lot like first-day jitters.
Can't wait to see what this show look like a month or two down the road.