The exposed brick walls in the new Manhattan studio for CBS This Morning are lined with items that reflect the legacy of the network's news division. A world map from Walter Cronkite's years on the evening news that was rescued from a New Jersey warehouse hangs on one side. Across the way are shelves with books by CBS journalists, vintage TV sets and video cameras. Standing out amid the paraphernalia is a green-and-gold Oakland A's cap, meant to remind the program's staff of the film Moneyball, in which Brad Pitt plays the renegade baseball executive Billy Beane.
CBS This Morning executive producer Chris Licht screened the film at a private launch party for the cast and crew held at the Ed Sullivan Theater last month. The message to the troops: out with the old rules and traditions of morning television. No forced banter, comedic weather forecasters and cheering fans on an outdoor plaza. "We're the Moneyball of TV," Licht says. "We're going to try to do it in a different way and everyone will scoff at it."
Just how different will be apparent to viewers who tune in at 7am on Monday, January 9, and see Charlie Rose, whose sonorous, soft drawl is more familiar to late-night viewers of his PBS talk show. He will be joined by Gayle King, a big personality who is well known and well liked but has never been part of a hit show outside of the universe of famous best friend Oprah Winfrey. One factor in her favor is that the early morning hours don't faze her. "I haven't had a good night's sleep since I hit menopause," she says. They'll be joined by Erica Hill, a holdover from CBS' The Early Show and the only one of the three with experience making the morning trains run on time.
The anchor trio, along with correspondents Jeff Glor (the Early Show's news anchor), John Miller (an ABC News veteran who specializes in national security and law enforcement issues) and Rebecca Jarvis (the Early Show's Saturday news anchor), has been rehearsing around a clear Lucite table with the famous CBS eye logo in the center. While everyone says they're pleased with the way it's gone so far, the real test of whether the program can achieve its stated goal of giving viewers smart conversation in the morning begins when the show goes live. "You don't know how to explain or plan chemistry," says King. "You either have it or you don't. You can't manufacture it."
Licht believes that taking two seasoned broadcasters and putting them in a setting they've never worked in will make CBS This Morning a fresh alternative. "Charlie is an incredible interviewer," he says. "And he has done this long enough to know the difference between having the time to talk with somebody for 25 minutes or six or seven minutes on the set here. Gayle pops off the screen — she knows everything you need to know about what's happening in the world, from Real Housewives to politics. It's an interesting proposition."
Licht does have a record of creating morning-TV alchemy, as he previously ran MSNBC's Morning Joe with the unlikely-on-paper pairing of former congressman Joe Scarborough and veteran network correspondent Mika Brzezinski. Over time it became a buzzed-about destination for political junkies. Licht says it's not a formula that can be simply replicated. "You can't re-create Morning Joe without Joe and Mika," he says.
But Rose's presence is also a statement that CBS This Morning will embrace the news division's emphasis on serious journalism and original reporting. That makes sense since breeziness has never been a strength of CBS News, which partly explains why it has never mounted a successful effort against NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America.
"They wanted to do something different and Charlie Rose is well known," a TV-news agent explains. "Since they're not in the game they can't do worse; maybe they'll get lucky and people will decide to give them a shot."
Who are those people? Ask Rose and he'll echo the philosophy of late Apple founder Steve Jobs, who never focus-grouped products before putting them out to market. Viewers may not know they want it, Rose says, "but once they realize it's there, they will come to it."