Morning Tv Mania

April 12, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff Writer

Each weekday morning at the ungodly hour of 5:30, a red camera light winks on in the newsroom at WJZ-TV, and two men set off to explore the parameters of info-tainment.

One has the calm, friendly demeanor of an airline pilot; the other seems to alternate moods between that of the folksy host of a backyard barbecue and a Chihuahua on Dexedrine.

For the next 90 minutes, they bring you news, weather reports, traffic updates, school lunch menus, a question of the day ("Does it smell like spring yet?"), local birthday announcements, a Medical Minute, out-of-town newspaper headlines, interviews with interesting Baltimoreans who do everything from hurling manure to micro-brewing beer, and lots of conversation -- funny conversation, pointed conversation, aimless conversation.

It's news you can use delivered coffee klatch-style, yet the whole thing has an adrenalized, seat-of-the-pants feel, as if any minute now a unicyclist juggling machetes could wheel up and everyone on the set would think: "Well, it's not in the script . . . but, hey. Let's see where it goes."

This is "Rise and Shine/The Morning Edition" with Marty Bass, best known as the weatherman with the 50,000-watt personality, and Don Scott, the steady, veteran anchor. And if there is an underlying philosophy to their work, it's this: Let's enjoy ourselves. Tomorrow we could all be hit by a bus.

"It's morning radio from the '50s and '60s translated to television," says Mr. Scott. "To get you going, it has to be fun."

"But people know us, too," says Mr. Bass, anxious to avoid the perception that this is all one big frat party on Tequila Sunrise Night. "They know that if a major news story breaks, we'll be there to tell them."

But perhaps Rick Lias, 30, the associate producer, puts it best when he says: "Some days I think: Are we in journalism? Am I Ziegfeld?"

Whatever it is, the show, now in its 12th year, is by far the longest-running and most popular locally produced morning program on Baltimore television, as well as the one that elicits the most emotional reaction, pro and con, from viewers.

The numbers it pulls down are impressive: a 6.0 rating and 34 share in the 5:30 a.m.-6 a.m. time slot in the most recent ratings book, a 9.9 rating and 38 share from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. This beats the combined numbers for its two morning competitors at WMAR-TV, where Rudy Miller and Jamie Costello hold forth, and WBAL-TV, anchored by Liz O'Neil. (A rating measures the percentage of television households watching a program. A share measures the percentage among homes where the TV is in use.)

Last year, Broadcasting magazine rated "Rise and Shine" the No. 2 local morning news show in the entire country in the 6 a.m.-to-7 a.m. time slot.

However you crunch the numbers, it has a large and devoted following.

Mr. Bass calls the show "viewer responsive." On certain mornings, the phones at WJZ ring off the hook with viewers passing along jokes, observations, criticisms and instructions to "Tell Marty it's snowing in Bel Air."

"I find it very informative," says Karen Kicklighter, 42, of Baltimore, who watches the show before heading off to work at her Eastern Avenue beauty salon. "It's pretty funny, and Marty Bass and Don Scott work well together."

Another long-time viewer is Kathy Allen, 46, a legal secretary from Perry Hall, who says: "I like Marty Bass. I just like his humor. The whole show is entertaining."

Here's how big "Rise and Shine" is with some viewers: The show's 28-year-old producer, Mark "The Blade" Brodinsky, was vacationing in Atlanta recently.

A huge Orioles fan, The Blade (they call him that because he's so sharp -- really) and his friends take in the Birds' exhibition game against the Braves.

On this day, there happen to be lots of Baltimoreans in the stands. And more than a few recognize Mr. Brodinsky from the brief on-air segment he does from the control room each morning to "tease" upcoming highlights of the show.

So in this homely bomb shelter of a stadium, you have the spectacle of excited "Rise and Shine" fans approaching a trim, quiet man in an O's cap who is some 750 miles from home and saying: "Hey, aren't you The Blade?"

And The Blade's Atlanta friends are like: Yeah, yeah, he's The Blade. Now sit down, pal, you're blocking my view.

See, The Blade's friends are not even mildly impressed. Because this happens to The Blade all the time.

And this is the show's producer!

Subtle chemistry

If there is a secret to the sustained popularity of "Rise and Shine," it lies in the subtle chemistry between the co-hosts. Marty Bass, 41, and Don Scott, 44, have been together for 10 years now, and their interaction on the air has the comfortable, expectant feel of two men who genuinely enjoy each other.

In Mr. Bass' office, there is an old picture of a slim Oprah Winfrey and a smiling Marty Bass, with a head of hair thick enough for an eagle to nest in.

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