CBS hopes 2017 offers a new dawn in TV’s ongoing morning-news battle.
“CBS This Morning” has, since its launch almost five years ago, made its network a bigger player in the A.M. than it has been since Bob Keeshan and Hugh Brannum cavorted about on its air as Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans decades ago. In the fourth quarter of 2011, CBS was a distant third to NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” luring an average of three million fewer viewers than the number-one show at the time. In the fourth quarter of 2016, the gap was less than one million.
The network isn’t satisfied, noted Ryan Kadro, who was named executive producer of “CBS This Morning” in April of last year. “I want to be north of 4 million viewers on more days than not,” said Kadro, in an interview. ABC’s “Today” garnered more than 4.6 million viewers in the fourth quarter, while NBC’s “Today” lured more than 4.5 million.
“We realize we have a lot of work to do,” Kadro said, but the network is “making a push to be number two.”
By some standards, “CBS This Morning” is a spartan affair. The show does not indulge in cooking segments and has no in-house meteorologist. Instead, co-hosts Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell come to segments with politicians, celebrities and business executives with a bevy of questions about how things work. The no-frills atmosphere offers an alternative to other morning programs that rely more heavily on trending topics and concert series.
Moving forward is not a foregone conclusion. NBC has in recent months expressed confidence in “Today,” by renewing contracts with co-anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. ABC recently made Michael Strahan a bigger presence on “GMA” and has retooled the second hour of the show with a live in-studio audience.
But CBS is encouraged by a simple dynamic. “CBS This Morning” is gaining viewers while its bigger rivals are losing them. In the fourth quarter, the CBS morning program saw overall viewership rise 6%, to 3.69 million from 3.48 million. During the same period, according to Nielsen, viewership for “Today” slipped 1% while audience at “GMA” has fallen 6%.
Producers believe the CBS show and its harder-news bent has lured some viewers who had grown tired of morning TV back to the fold, said Kadro. “You’re going to learn something. You are going to have an experience that you would not have had in other places,” he said.
IN 2017, he expects “CBS This Morning” to maintain a tight focus on the unfolding story of Donald Trump’s presidency. The show will also continue to burnish signature segments, such as one in which reporters find people of different ideologies coming together for a greater good. “CBS This Morning” will also continue to run features that look at ways of life in other parts of the world, Kadro said.
CBS expects the current trio to remain with the show, Kadro said, noting, “We are committed to keeping this team together.” Viewers looking for animal antics and celebrity chefs will have to seek them elsewhere, he said. “We don’t do stunts.”