A new morning dawns for CBS Television: The network believes the future lies in sharing the mornings with the affiliates, in this case, Don Scott and Marty Bass.

August 12, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

To hear CBS' on-air talent talk, the brave new world of morning television begins today -- with a step so huge it will render the other players obsolete, yet so obvious it's a wonder nobody thought of it before.

Get local stations more involved, the network news brass has decided. Let them carry part of the show.

Beginning today, "This Morning" (besides dropping CBS from the title) will split itself in half: From 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., the show will become essentially an hour-long extension of WJZ, Channel 13's hugely popular morning program with Don Scott and Marty Bass. In most cases, the CBS part of the show will be limited to three five-minute segments.

At 8 a.m., the network takes over with an hour of lighter fare that should be more like what people have come to expect in their morning shows.

Similar arrangements will debut today on CBS affiliates throughout the country. While the network will offer an entire two hours of "This Morning" to stations that want it, spokeswoman Kerri Weitzberg says roughly two-thirds have opted in favor of the 50-50 split.

"I think it's the wave of the future, a marriage of local and national," says Mark McEwen, a holdover from the earliest days of "CBS This Morning" who will co-anchor the 8 a.m.-9 a.m. hour. "I think it's kind of a neat way to go screaming into the year 2000."

It's also a nice way to placate affiliates frustrated with the consistent third-place finish of "CBS This Morning." In Baltimore, the move can't help but help: Scott and Bass have long dominated morning TV in these parts, so extending their show by an hour should increase the ratings, bring more advertising revenue into WJZ and increase the visibility of McEwen, Jane Robelot and newcomer Jose Diaz-Balart on CBS -- hopefully to the point where viewers won't leave CBS at 8 a.m. for a "Today" or "Good Morning America" program that's already half over.

"When you have powerhouses like WJZ, the other boys don't get a chance to use them like we will be using them," says McEwen. "It's like having a clean-up hitter sitting right on the bench for two hours. For us guess what, kids? He's right there hitting the ball."

"The other guys are really very good at what they do," adds Robelot, who joined "CBS This Morning" in October and will serve as co-host of the entire two-hour "This Morning" broadcast. "Why should you tinker with the 'Today' show, why should you tinker with 'Good Morning America'? We were the last guy in that ballgame, coming in in 1987, and everybody kind of picked the two that they liked. So we're the ones that can now, instead of being the third guy in the dance that goes this way, we're all of a sudden the first guy in the dance going that way."

In addition to the new format, viewers will be getting their first look at a new face this morning. Diaz-Balart joins CBS from Miami's WTVJ-TV, where he co-anchored the noon and 5: 30 p.m. broadcasts. On "This Morning," he'll share the anchor desk with Robelot from 7 a.m.-8 a.m., then read the news from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.

A second-generation Cuban-American whose father and grandfather both worked for the government in pre-Castro Cuba, Diaz-Balart lets his senior partners do most of the talking when it comes to "This Morning." But like them, he's convinced the show and its format are going places.

"I'm very excited," he stresses, "to be part of a show that is really the first time the network has sat down and talked to the affiliates and asked, 'What is it that you guys need? What is it that you want? What are your requirements?' And they listened."

McEwen, who grew up in Anne Arundel County and can prove his Maryland roots by singing a chorus of "My Kind of Man, Ted Agnew Is" (a 1966 campaign song, to the tune of "My Kind of Town, Chicago Is"), knows the skeptics are out there. Critics may see the changes as a desperate ratings ploy or a forced marriage doomed to failure, but not him. Change is inevitable, he believes, and those destined to succeed are those who can adapt with it.

"Remember when somebody told you you'd be buying bottled water and you went, 'Yeah, right,' " he explains. "And now people have their Evian and all that sort of stuff. The market has changed, news is evolving, television is evolving. That's why I think the time is now."

Pub Date: 8/12/96

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