Some people gird for battle by putting on armor. Tony Dokoupil just bought a second pair of dress shoes.
“I’ve had the same pair of brown, beat-up, nasty dress shoes — my good shoes. I’ve been wearing them for several years now,” the “CBS Mornings” co-anchor confides in a recent interview.
Dokoupil, 41 years old, has reason to refresh his wardrobe. He and CBS News have renewed his contract, locking in the team behind the network’s morning news program– Gayle King and Nate Burleson also co-anchor the show, while Vladimir Duthiers is a daily contributor — for the next few years. It’s a sign that CBS and parent company Paramount Global are confident in the show, which, even though it remains in third place behind ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today,” has been making viewership gains in important categories as the current battle for A.M. news viewers enters an interesting new phase.
For the past several weeks, “GMA” has edged out “Today” in a critical audience category; people between 25 and 54. It’s the kind of viewership advertisers pay more for, and the ABC show has for the last seven weeks trumped the efforts of its NBC rival. Typically, “Today” dominates the crucial demographic. Meanwhile, “CBS Mornings,” with a new format that launched last September, has seen its share increase among female viewers in that age range — the core audience Madison Avenue wants from the programs. Under executive producer Shawna Thomas, “CBS Mornings” has, quarter to date, seen its female audience between 25 and 54 rise 6%, while “Today’s” has fallen 13% and “GMA’s” has declined by 15%. All three of the programs have seen viewership in the overall 25-to-54 category decline in recent weeks.
At stake: millions of dollars in advertising. CBS’ morning program captured $110.7 million in 2021, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending, compared with nearly $298.3 million for NBC’s “Today”: and around $280 million for ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The top executive at CBS News sees new opportunity in the A.M. “The re-imagined ‘CBS Mornings’ — which distinguishes itself everyday through its hard hitting reporting, longer form storytelling, and exclusive interviews – is hitting its stride,” says Neeraj Khemlani, co-president of CBS’ news-and-stations unit, via email. “The program is closer to its competitors now more than at any point in the history of the franchise — more than 10 years ago, more than 5 years ago. Gayle, Tony, Nate and Vlad have incredible chemistry, and under the strong leadership of Shawna Thomas, the entire anchor, reporting and producing teams have the wind at their backs…and the audience is clearly responding.”
Dokoupil brings new ingredients to the CBS morning recipe. He readily acknowledges that he didn’t spend years coming up through the TV-news ranks and says the only reason he got through college was because he played baseball. “I had the least fancy upbringing,” he notes, and his 2014 book, “The Last Pirate: A Father, His Son, and the Golden Age of Marijuana” tells of his relationship with his father, who spent years as a marijuana smuggler.
He spent several years as a writer for Newsweek, The Daily Beast and NBC News’ digital operations before joining CBS News as a correspondent and contributor to “Sunday Morning.” But his time working as a print scribe taught him lessons he uses to this day: “You find out something new and you explain it to the largest possible audience — make them interested,” he says.
During his time on “CBS This Morning,” Dokoupil has often been dispatched to big breaking-news scenes, whether they be Uvalde, Texas, or the border between Poland and Ukraine. For the anchor, the key to these assignments isn’t necessarily found by interviewing authorities, though that remains part of the job. But he places some emphasis on “talking to regular people where the story is happening and happening to them.”
He’s also developing a reputation for explaining abstract concepts to viewers in ways that make the subjects stick. He’s kept tabs on companies like Juul and Puff Bar that have skirted around the rules that bind more typical nicotine and tobacco products. Last week, he examined why local TV stations can’t block political ads that contain lies. He has been early to examine the rising popularity of the so-called “metaverse,” and launched an intriguing experiment in which he examined the reliability of mail-in voting by tracking mock ballots sent around the vicinity of Philadelphia.
“These are not typical TV stories, but we are getting better at getting them on TV” by telling them though the voices of “regular, everyday people,” he says. He’s also dipping his toe into streaming video, with a new program, “The Uplift,” that focuses on stories that motivate and inspire.
CBS is betting on Dokoupil, King and Burleson to carry a show that has long taken a different approach to morning news. When “CBS This Morning,” which Dokoupil joined in 2019, debuted, it was known for avoiding some of the frillier traditions of A.M. TV, like cooking segments and Halloween celebrations. CBS News doubled down on the concept by tying its weekday morning program to the long-running — and long successful — Sunday news show. Now the 8 a.m. hour tends to move off the news and focus instead on longer, enterprise reporting segments, something that is also at the heart of CBS News’ Saturday morning broadcast.
Dokoupil’s marriage to NBC News correspondent and MSNBC anchor Katy Tur has also captured some attention. The pair can sometimes be seen going back and forth on Twitter, and, more recently, Dokoupil interviewed his wife briefly on a Monday broadcast as part of a segment about her new memoir.
But Dokoupil says he knows much of the appeal of a morning show comes down to a bigger team, not just a single anchor. “It’s all about the family at the table,” he says. “It’s got to be a family you want to hang out with.”
As his recent footwear purchase demonstrates, Dokoupil clearly believes he still has some miles to travel.