Mark McEwen weathers a decade in the morning TV: Former Marylander becomes morning television's senior personality on an up note. His new CBS slot is attracting attention.

On the Air

November 30, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

One of Maryland's own celebrates a decade on CBS this year.

Ten years of getting up in the wee hours has made Mark McEwen, co-host of the network's "This Morning" program, the dean of early-morning TV (that, and Joan Lunden's decision to retire earlier this year). And it's a distinction that leaves the 43-year-old McEwen, whose parents still live in Anne Arundel County, unsure how to react.

"Sometimes I chuckle at the longevity," McEwen says over the phone from his New York office. "It's something that you don't think about. You go to work every day, you come home; before you know it, those going-to-work-every-days start adding up."

McEwen started at CBS on Jan. 12, 1987, doing the weather alongside hosts Mariette Hartley and Rolland Smith. It was a job he wasn't so sure he wanted.

"I kind of went kicking and screaming," he remembers. "I remember thinking, 'What am I doing over here in the weather slot?' But the weather was the personality part of any broadcast, basically, and that's what I began to pay attention to. The weather, you did it, but it's what you did around the weather that people paid attention to. That's what got me noticed."

Better things were soon to come, however. Later that same year, the network debuted "CBS This Morning," with Kathleen Sullivan and Harry Smith. This time, McEwen got to be the weatherman and the pop-music editor -- a job that enabled him to use the talents he'd honed doing radio for nine-plus years (beginning at Baltimore's WKTK in 1977).

"I got to do two pieces a week that weren't weather-related, interviewing people like Al Green and Tommy James and the Shondells," he says. "The first time I went through doing interviews, they'd say, 'What's a weatherman doing here?' Then the second time I came through, they realized that I had done radio for 9 1/2 years and that I kind of knew my stuff. They were a lot more open to doing interviews after that."

Since then, many anchors have come and gone as CBS struggled to escape the morning-show basement. Through it all, however, McEwen has remained -- suggesting that being a weatherman may not be so bad after all.

"When you're the weatherman, it's not your show," he explains. "You are the younger brother of the show, so if [the ratings] go up, you're a great part of it. If they go down, it's not your fault."

That excuse won't work anymore, however. When CBS revamped "This Morning" last year, his bosses named McEwen co-host (with Jane Robelot) of the show's 8 a.m.-9 a.m. hour. During the 7 a.m.-8 a.m. hour, which CBS shares with its local affiliates, he does a daily entertainment report.

His show, he says, is doing just fine, climbing half a ratings point in the past six weeks.

"We can feel it coming," McEwen says. "When you have a big fish leave a pond, the plates shift a little bit. It happened with Jane Pauley, it's happening with Joan Lunden. Half a point in six weeks, that's a ton of change right there, that's upward mobility."

Still, what really got him excited last month was not the improved ratings, but his induction into the Arundel High School sports Hall of Fame. A heavyweight wrestler ("I was a lot lighter than I am now," he says with a laugh) who once pinned an opponent in 14 seconds -- a school record that stood for 20 years -- McEwen relished the chance to salute his coach, Buddy Hepfer.

It's that sort of just-folks quality, he believes, that has helped make him a fixture at CBS.

"I'm still the same guy I was when I left Maryland, just a little bit older," McEwen says. "I am what I am. When you see me in person, I'm pretty much the same as I am on TV. I think the audience, they're savvy, they can tell that stuff . It's like Sally Field said: They like me."

CD benefits AIDS patients

Life is going to be a bit easier for some local AIDS patients, thanks to the folks at 98-Rock.

Money raised from the sale of "Don't Move, I'll Go Get You a Towel," a CD featuring comedy cuts and other material from the station's Kirk, Mark and Lopez morning team, was presented to Chase-Brexton Health Services, a community-based health center providing medical and social services to those infected with HIV. The center also provides AIDS testing and counseling.

Station personnel handed over a check for nearly $80,000 during a Nov. 20 ceremony at the Hard Rock Cafe downtown.

The best of cable

Comcast customers in Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties won't have to channel surf to find some of the best programming on cable.

As part of the Comcast Five-Star Festival, running weekends through New Year's Eve, the company has collected some of cable's best offerings on one channel. The programming begins at 6 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, and customers will be able to watch without having to pay any extra.

Today, programs from Showtime are featured. Future offerings will include programming from ESPN (Dec. 6), HBO Sports (Dec. 7), A&E (Dec. 13), the History Channel (Dec. 14), the Disney Channel (Dec. 20-21), Comedy Central (Dec. 27) and HBO (Dec. 28). The festival ends Dec. 31 with a "New Year's Eve Music & Comedy Countdown," live from Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Fla.

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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