CBS Has Considered Times Square Studio for Morning Show (EXCLUSIVE)
“CBS This Morning” could get a new sunrise perch.
CBS is contemplating a move that could harness a cavernous studio facility in the New York headquarters of its corporate parent, ViacomCBS, for use by CBS News — in particular its A.M. program.
The studio offers panoramic views of Times Square, was once used as a base for the legendary MTV program “TRL,” and can be seen from the windows of the New York building that houses ABC morning rival “Good Morning America.” After using the space for CBS News’ coverage of the 2020 presidential election, executives are mulling the prospect of letting the news division do more there, according to three people familiar with the discussions.
The idea has not moved beyond early discussions, one of these people says, and no changes are imminent. The concept would present some logistical challenges and may not come to fruition, this person cautions. CBS News declined to make executives available for comment.
The deliberations show CBS working on a potential new salvo in TV’s ongoing morning-news wars, where an increase or decrease in viewership can affect millions of dollars in annual advertising revenue. Both “GMA” and NBC’s “Today” make ready use of their New York City surroundings. “Today” anchors like Hoda Kotb and Al Roker regularly go out to a plaza at NBC’s Rockefeller Center facilities in New York to talk with crowds gathered around the program’s longtime home, Studio 1A. “Good Morning America” is clearly visible through large windows to passers-by of the program’s Times Square Studios production facility.
“CBS This Morning” is broadcast from a large New York facility that — before the coronavirus pandemic — also serves as a base for “CBS Evening News” as well as HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and TBS’ “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.” It’s not as flashy as the facilities used by its rivals, and deliberately so. Previous CBS executives were well aware of the costs of maintaining a welcoming roost for an early-bird program. CBS’ “The Early Show” held forth for more than a decade from Manhattan’s General Motors Building, part of an investment by then-parent Viacom estimated to be as much as $30 million to make a new run for TV’s morning-news audience.
Executives were encouraged by the news division’s recent Election Night broadcasts, which had room for a range of anchors as well as a separate area for monitoring voting results. The telecasts made use of augmented-reality graphics and real-time displays and maps.
CBS has long played third in morning-news ratings among the broadcast networks, but has found traction with “CBS This Morning.” The show tries to avoid some of the frillier trappings of morning rivals, such as cooking segments, a staff meteorologist and outdoor concerts, in favor of deeper looks at business, foreign affairs and national politics. In recent months, “CBS This Morning” has placed new emphasis on co-anchor Gayle King and her interviews with both newsmakers and celebrities. She is joined by Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil and the program regularly has the trio spend time discussing the stories of the day, not racing through them.
The show has lost viewers in the first 11 weeks of the season, but its ratings drops are not as large as those of its competitors, which draw bigger audiences. All the broadcast network morning programs have had to contend with new competition from cable news, which tends to focus more heavily on politics, as well as rivalries from new forms of media, including electronic newsletters and other kinds of digital content.
For the five days ended December 4, NBC’s “Today” captured an average of 1.03 million viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, the demographic most favored by advertisers in news programming, according to data from Nielsen. Meanwhile, ABC’s’ “GMA” commanded an average of 944,000. “CBS This Morning” won an average of 602,000. But the CBS program has narrowed some of the gaps between its audience levels and those of its rivals. Its overall viewership for the week — 2.84 million viewers — represented its second best total of the first 11 weeks of the 2020-2021 TV season.