CBS chose the dawn of the Republican National Convention to unveil its latest attempt to break out of also-ran status in the morning news race, replacing the amiable “CBS This Morning” anchors Harry Smith and Paula Zahn with Jane Robelot, Jose Diaz-Balart and Mark McEwen. Call ’em the in-way-over-their-heads gang.
With a new format relying on the integration of national and local news teams , “This Morning” comes across as such a minor-league operation that the only dent it’s likely to make in the ratings is through the floor. That’s how it looks after six outings in New York, at least. The first hour is given over almost exclusively to local news, Robelot breaking in at occasional intervals with national updates. The second hour is more heavily weighted toward network-produced features on the order of “a day with a veterinarian,” the main event promoted on Monday’s program.
The three key network contributors seem unlikely, at this point, to offer a serious challenge to their counterparts on ABC’s “Good Morning America” or NBC’s “Today.” With a happy smile frozen on her face and a stream of phony-sounding banter, Robelot reeks of disingenuousness. Kicking off the new show going one-on-one in a taped segment with Bob Dole at his childhood home in Kansas, Diaz-Balart made it clear that he is of the “What’s it like to …?” school of celebrity interviewing: “What’s it like to be from a small town?””What’s it like to be running for president?” (“He really opened up to you in a way we haven’t seen,” Robelot oozed after the piece.)
Everyone looks bad in this muzzy morning light. The team is given to hawking exclusives that aren’t. An “exclusive” Dan Rather interview with President Clinton on the eve of his 50th birthday was a slice-and-dice version of a segment that had appeared the night before on “60 Minutes.” Ever the good soldier, Rather showed up for the morning program and matched Robelot, pained smile for pained smile. “You’re gonna hear tax breaks until you’re ready to do a half-gainer off the Empire State Building, heh, heh, heh,” Rather promised of the upcoming presidential campaign, Robelot heh-heh-ing right in there with him.
This is a show in which the anchors are still looking soulfully into the wrong cameras, there are too many flubs, and the level of writing is substandard. “Not all the president’s parties are political,” was the line that introduced the Clinton piece. Huh?
McEwen is the most telegenic of the three, appearing comfortable on an attractive set that combines a wood-paneled anchor station with the multiscreen backdrop that has become standard on newsmagazines. But so far he has been reduced to soft live and taped segments, the kind that send viewers back to the shaving mirror, the morning paper or the remote control.