You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘CBS This Morning’ Taps Music To Make Noise On Saturdays

In a hushed cavern of a room somewhere in Manhattan, music group the Lone Bellow is holding forth, previewing new songs and, in a surprise moment, tackling the popular Broken Bells single “Holding on for Life.” Most members of the small audience are staring at monitors rather than the band.

If this concert took place at one of New York’s music clubs, like the Mercury Lounge or the Bowery Ballroom, such behavior might prompt surprise. In this case, however, the band was taping a set for the Saturday edition of “CBS This Morning,” part of another effort by the show’s personnel to distinguish this A.M. option from the rest of the morning-show pack.

“There’s a lot of great music out there that doesn’t get air time,” said Anthony Mason, co-host of the program. “You shine a light on them and people say, ‘Thanks.’”

CBS This Morning’s” ‘Saturday Session’ isn’t just about offering something that has a good beat. The show is using the new sounds to help it stand apart from similar fare aired on rival networks. NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” both of which typically draw a larger viewership than the CBS program, also feature music, but their most prominent offerings generally appear in frenetic outdoor concerts and rely on bands and musicians who are extremely well known. While popular musicians like Annie Lennox (above, pictured) and Aaron Neville have appeared on the show, “CBS This Morning” also spotlights artists whose acclaim may sometimes be more critical than popular. Ben Harper, Wussy and She & Him have gotten a nod from the program in recent months. Lucinda Williams is slated to appear this coming Saturday.

Musicians make the rounds of programs ranging from “Saturday Night Live” to “The Late, Late Show,” but CBS’ morning program pushes for a different standard. Having an album to promote isn’t always a good enough reason to have someone on the air, explained Brian Applegate, senior broadcast producer for “CBS This Morning.” The program tends to get more interested in bands that have an interesting backstory. In Ben Harper’s case, the singer had just done an album with his mother. And Wussy was interesting because critics had hailed it as one of the best bands in the nation, yet its members all still had day jobs.

“We are not just stuffing it in to the show to fill four minutes,” said Mason. The show did 16 profiles in 2014 to accompany musical appearances, Applegate said. The musical performances commenced on “CBS This Morning” in 2012.

The program’s pitch to publicists is that an appearance on CBS can lend musicians a boost.  After the Lone Bellow’s performance appeared on “CBS This Morning” last week, Applegate noticed sales of the band’s two albums rise significantly in rankings on Amazon.

Yet an appearance on “CBS This Morning” is not without some challenges. Many rival programs cover production costs, thanks to sponsors, but CBS does not. Fees can range from between $3,000 to $10,000, according to people familiar with the situation, depending on the size of the band and the time they need to play. The prices can sometimes present a hardship for artists without the backing of a major label.

“It’s not cheap. There are union workers involved. The more people present, the more it costs,” said Jim Flammia, president of All Eyes Media, a boutique public-relations firm specializing in music. Even so, he added, “I’ve found every one of the artists that have performed, every single time, their stuff spikes, like massively spikes.”

The show also insists on unvarnished performances. Artists are not allowed to tweak their sessions, said Applegate. “We do not allow any overdubs,” he said. “I know a lot of shows do.”

The rule has caused friction. Applegate and Mason acknowledged the program is currently in legal discussions with a musician they declined to name who would not allow his music to be played without alterations. “It was a line-in-the-sand moment, and it was a really big name,” explained Applegate. “We had done an interview with this artist and invested a lot of time to do it, and we just said, ‘If we cross that line, we have to cross that line with everyone.’”

The producer has a theory about why a slot on “CBS This Morning” has the potential to make more of an impression than showing up for a more popular latenight show or morning-time rival. In many cases, he said, musical acts appear in one of the last segments of those shows, he said. Those moments tend to have fewer eyeballs, since people leave the TV set in the morning to start their day or turn off the TV in the wee hours to get to bed. On Saturdays, Applegate suggested, people wake up and turn on the TV, so an appearance later in the morning carries some potential.

The appearances can draw young parents who may not have as much free time to pursue music as they once did, said Hector A. Silva, director of publicity at Shore Fire Media. “This is crucial to our business,” he said.

Mason and Applegate say they became music aficionados at an early age. Mason would listen to Casey Kasem Top 40 broadcasts and keep detailed notes on chart positions, because the cost of buying Billboard was prohibitive, he recalled. Applegate has learned multiple instruments and takes pride in a picture he has on his smartphone showing him alongside Robbie Robertson, the famed songwriter from the Band.

The pair has a dream list in mind that includes everyone from Bob Dylan to the War on Drugs, and wants to keep booking. “If you can expose people to new stuff and explain why it is interesting to you, I think they’ll respond,” said Mason.

More TV

  • Jan Guillou's 'The Great Century' Being

    Jan Guillou's 'The Great Century' Being Adapted as Epic Drama Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Great Century” is being adapted as an epic drama series by Dramacorp-Pampas Studios, which has landed the rights to Swedish author Jan Guillou’s book series. Guillou is known for his “Hamilton” spy-thriller novels, which Dramacorp-Pampas Studios has brought to TV as “Agent Hamilton.” That project had an international premiere at Mipcom and has presold [...]

  • Lilly Burns Tony Hernandez

    Variety to Honor Jax Media Chiefs Tony Hernandez, Lilly Burns at New Leaders Event

    Emmy Award-winning producer Tony Hernandez and Emmy-nominated producer Lilly Burns will receive the Creative Leadership Award on behalf of Jax Media at the Variety New Leaders event presented by City National Bank, taking place Nov. 14 in New York City. As founders of Jax Media, Hernandez and Burns have produced shows and specials such as [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Virginia Leith, Female Lead in Stanley Kubrick's First Film, Dies at 94

    Actress and model Virginia Leith, who starred in Stanley Kubrick’s first film “Fear and Desire,” which he later disavowed, has died. She was 94. According to family spokesperson Jane Chalmers, Leith died after a brief illness at her home in Palm Springs, Calif. on Nov. 4. Born on Oct. 15, 1925, Leith met Kubrick in [...]

  • Friends

    'Friends' Reunion Special in Early Planning Stages at HBO Max

    More “Friends” could well be there for you when the HBO Max rain starts to fall. An unscripted “Friends” reunion special is in the works at the forthcoming WarnerMedia streamer, Variety has confirmed with sources. Sources say original cast members Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer are in discussions [...]

  • TC3_SM_060718_238A4600.cr2

    'The Crown' New Season: Netflix to Offer Opening Episode for Free in the U.K.

    When Olivia Colman steps into the royal shoes of Queen Elizabeth II, viewers in the U.K. and Ireland will be able to watch for free as Netflix makes the eagerly awaited Season 3 curtain-raiser available gratis. The streaming giant will launch the series opener on a dedicated site for a limited period starting Sunday, making it [...]

  • T.R. Knight

    TV News Roundup: T.R. Knight Joins HBO Max's 'The Flight Attendant'

    In today’s TV news roundup, “Grey’s Anatomy” star T.R. Knight joins HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant” and BET renewed “Games People Play.” CASTING T.R Knight has been cast in HBO Max‘s dark comedy “The Flight Attendant.“ Knight will play Cassie’s (Kaley Cuoco) older brother, Davey. When Cassie’s life starts to unravel, Davey deals with the [...]

  • Days of Our Lives Bill Hayes

    'Days of Our Lives' Cast Members Released From Contracts

    The entire cast of the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” have been released from their contracts, Variety has confirmed. The daytime drama has run for over 13,000 episodes since first debuting in 1965. The show will go on hiatus at the end of November, though it has shot enough episodes to last through the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content