What is it about CBS and round tables? When it comes to conceptualizing talk shows, somebody there must be hooked big time on seating people in a circle.
On Wednesday, that thought sprang to mind as we were watching “CBS This Morning,” the CBS network’s latest stab at getting a morning show right. For years CBS has been a perennial third-place finisher behind NBC and ABC in the network morning show competition.
The first thing that jumped out at us about this new show is that the co-hosts (more on them later) are seated at a round table that immediately prompted memories of one of the Chicago TV market’s biggest recent morning show fiascoes — “Monsters and Money in the Morning.”
That short-lived early morning show debuted in 2010 on CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 and featured an odd (to say the least) trio of co-hosts seated at a specially-made ROUND wooden table.
The three hosts recruited for “Monsters and Money” were broadcast sports host Mike North, financial columnist and author Terry Savage and Mike Hegedus, a former CNBC business reporter who relocated to Chicago to join the team.
At the time, the round table seen on “Monsters and Money” was designed to give the show a look and feel very different than that of other competitors locally. The round table did that, but the effect never felt right. Never felt comfortable. Nor did the mix of co-hosts, who simply were unable to establish any sort of effective chemistry or rhythm. So in less than a year “Monsters and Money” was over.
After two days spent watching “CBS This Morning,” however, we did not come away with the same sense of doom that hung over “Monsters and Money” almost from the get-go.
An oddball trio of co-hosts
Granted we had our doubts about the “CBS This Morning” co-host lineup when it was first announced several months ago. But now that we’ve seen the show, our fears, at least at this early stage, aren’t as pronounced as they were.
Yet it is another oddball trio of co-hosts. Charlie Rose is a talk show curiosity who has made a name for himself in late night television circles, thanks to his often ponderous interviews that have given him a reputation for being thoughtful and probing. That he may be, but that’s not necessarily the stuff of mass market network morning shows.
Rose is seated at the round table with Gayle King, whose rise to relative fame and fortune, no doubt, can be traced to her great good luck at having been one of talk diva Oprah Winfrey’s best friends.
Make no mistake. King has played that role in Winfrey’s life to perfection. And it has catapulted her to ever more impressive professional heights, culminating so far with this morning show gig.
But when we first saw King Wednesday morning, she looked as if she hadn’t slept in days. Heavy-lidded with a sour expression, King appeared anything but a morning person. Perhaps she will grow into it, but she never struck us as someone who might relish rising each day in the middle of the night for any reason.
The third co-host is Erica Hill, who in another life was the extraordinarily annoying sidekick/ news woman on “Anderson Cooper 360” on CNN. There she was giggly, flirty and downright idiotic. Here she’s taken on a more sober demeanor — one, dare we say, that almost makes her a very tolerable person to watch. She knows how to ask the right questions too.
But do these three disparate on-air personas mesh on “CBS This Morning?” No. Certainly not yet. None of them are doing perky yet. And that is something many morning show watchers probably expect to find in a morning show product. Frankly we didn’t miss that for a second on “CBS This Morning.”
Round table inhibits connecting with others
But that round table is a problem. It doesn’t allow the hosts to connect in any meaningful way with each other or with the guests who showed up at that roundtable. If “CBS This Morning” is to have any hope of realizing its full potential, that table will have to go.
That said, we rather liked the more hard-news edge the show is striving for in its mix of segments. “CBS This Morning” does not have a news digest at the top of every hour, something a lot of people may miss.
But the more substantive material throughout each hour — much of it pegged to breaking news developments — does a decent job of compensating for the digest’s absence.
Finally, though, the future of this latest experiment will depend on how well the co-hosts interact. On Wednesday, that challenge — and the talents’s way of addressing it — was best reflected in an exchange between King and Rose at the end of King’s fairly-well-handled taped interview with First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House.
As the interview segment concluded and the show cut back to the studio hosts, Rose leaned over the table and ever so seriously asked King what she believed to be Michelle Obama’s biggest vulnerability. Before fumbling around to provide her serious answer, King quickly quipped that she felt certain Rose was going to ask her who designed the dress Obama wore for the interview.
It was hard to know for sure whether that exchange had been carefully scripted or was indeed a spontaneous bit of banter. But this type of interesting interplay may point to a way for the new “CBS This Morning” to succeed.
Oh. In case you missed it, King did eventually answer the question she was burning to when Rose asked instead about vulnerabilities. Michelle Obama was in fact wearing a J. Crew design she picked up four years ago.
For Gayle King, anyway, fashion still matters.
Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com.