News Team: Assemble.
CBS News plans to hurl a new anchor squad into TV’s morning-news wars Monday when a different trio – Gayle King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil – takes the helm at “CBS This Morning.” The A.M. effort that has won critical plaudits by focusing on harder news topics, like international affairs and business, and has given CBS new momentum in a daypart dominated by ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today” that it struggled in the past to conquer. But the show has ceded ground in recent months.
That doesn’t mean CBS is going to abandon the program’s newsier premise, says Diana Miller, its new executive producer. Viewers still won’t be seeing an abundance of cooking segments or summer concert series. “We are certainly not going to be doing less news,” she says. “In this day and age, there’s no shortage of it.”
Even so, viewers can expect to see some tweaks to the program’s format. No one is jettisoning the show’s signature “Eye Opener” video montage. But audiences will encounter a set of correspondents assigned to the program in very specific ways. David Begnaud, who gained notice for his recent coverage of hurricane-torn Puerto Rico, becomes the show’s lead national correspondent. Jericka Duncan becomes a national correspondent. Vladimir Duthiers will give a first look at each day’s most talked-about stories. And Anna Werner will serve as a consumer investigative correspondent.
“We really want this to be the team you can trust – not just the anchor team, but also with the addition of these great reporters,” says Miller, noting that on-air personnel will focus not only on bringing viewers the news of the day, but spotlight why stories matter to viewers. Viewers can expect to see regular segments looking at consumer, medical and financial news. Producers will manage things so that the anchors and correspondents will have time to get into the field, as well as pursue some investigations.
Behind the scenes, millions of dollars are at stake. The weekday version of the show captured nearly $233.5 million in ad revenue in 2018, according to Kantar Media, a tracker of ad spending – an approximate 10.1% increase from the nearly $211.9 million it notched in the previous year. CBS News is betting the on-air changes will boost the show – and help the network gain back some of the morning-schedule ground it captured after the program launched in 2012.
CBS may be borrowing a page or two from other morning institutions. Local-news stations thrive on featuring specific personnel on sports, weather and other topics. At cable’s HLN, “Morning Express” has featured Robin Meade, weather anchor Bob Van Dillen and business correspondent Jennifer Westhoven since 2006. They have stayed together more years than any current national morning team.
The vibe on the set of “CBS This Morning” will be the same as in the past, says Miller. “CBS This Morning” initially thrived on letting anchors King, Norah O’Donnell and Charlie Rose take time during segments to ask their own questions about the news, whether they be about the success of Apple earnings or the use of robots in overseas factories. That chemistry was upset after Rose was ousted in the wake of allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances on subordinates. Two new anchors – John Dickerson and Bianna Golodryga – joined the CBS morning circle, but viewership began to roll back.
Under new CBS President Susan Zirinsky, the network’s best-known news programs are being overhauled. Dickerson has been dispatched to “60 Minutes,” where Steve Kroft is retiring. O’Donnell will take up the reins of “CBS Evening News” this summer. New producers have been installed at “CBS This Morning” and “48 Hours,” and a new executive producer will soon be named to oversee O’Donnell’s production.
At “Morning,” King’s recent success in snaring interviews with people like musician R. Kelly has expanded her circle, and given “CBS This Morning” a chance to own different kinds of stories. “We are still a hard-news destination, make no mistake about it,” says Zirinsky in a recent interview. “We are the destination for people who want the news in the morning, but we can expand because of the reach of these three people and touch the cultural, iconic, memorable stories of the day.” She also cites Mason’s facility over the years with everything from foreign affairs to business to popular music and says Dokoupil is a “rising young star” whose writing and reporting on segments for “CBS Sunday Morning” have impressed executives.
The broader appeal of the CBS program has been letting the main anchors show their own curiosity and probe stories more deeply, a feature that seems likely to continue. “The other shows have left a lot of room for us to own areas they are not covering,”says Miller. The new “CBS This Morning” broadcast “is going to have a fresh sort of feel to it , even though the bones of the show are going to feel extremely familiar to people.”