And he's right; they do. At least I do.
I love morning television. I love that fans wait in Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza for the faces of American mornings. It's a rare day when the first thing I do after shutting off my alarm isn't turning on Today or GMA. There is history in the TelePrompTers, and at the boardroom tables the overnight staff tries not to fall asleep at. This book is an extremely-insider look into the world of morning television. You read e-mails between producers, you are sitting at the dinner table with Matt Lauer's agent. You can feel the tension between Ann Curry and Matt Lauer on the anchor couch. You know almost before Savannah Guthrie knows that she's next. And you know the exact moment Operation Bambi begins. I never wanted this book to end.
NBC is the network that invented morning television. Quite literally, the Today Show was the first show of its kind. Today premiered in 1952, ABC's imitation came in 1975, and CBS was last in 1987. The book makes it very clear, though, that CBS does not try to be in the same category as the former two- it takes place in an isolated studio without fans who line the street and it would not even dream of having wild animals in the studio, or drinking wine on Wednesday in the 4th hour. It does not try to compete or identify with Today or GMA.
The morning television relationship is a complicated one. If you think about it, your relationship with an anchor family might be the most intimate relationship you have. You share the very first (and valuable) moments of your day with them. Before you brush your teeth, put on a bra or pour a cup of coffee, you've spent time with them. At least I have. The anchors need to be an extension of your own family-- not just an exclusive V.I.P club. They have to want you there, so you want to come back.
They have to satisfy your needs before you leave the door, or hop in the shower. They need to let you know what happened overnight, provide you with necessary information before you head to work or school, and make it fun and intriguing all the while.
They cannot be too self-serving or self-indulging or the viewer will decide the show has nothing to do with them, and their presence will not make a difference. That's the tricky thing: letting each viewer know their presence does matter, even though those on one side of the lens don't even know who they are.
Zev Shalev, the EP of CBS's The Early Show describes it this way: "Morning needs patience. You're building an intimate relationship with the audience asking them to tune in and give you two hours of their life each morning. They are looking for a long term relationship."
I've had a long term relationship with Today for a really long time. I love NBC. I feel a strong and fierce loyalty to NBC. I think it does the best job of tying local news with national news and I enjoy the way NBC values and stays true to its tradition. I appreciate the integrity of the network. But recently, I've been turning on GMA. It's good to know a little about a lot.
This book makes sure you do. While you're reading a rundown of Today at NBC, you're hearing a phone call between producer and talent at GMA. You see the most direct juxtaposition between the networks that has ever been offered, and there is no way you will think of any "exclusive" without wondering how a network got it.
The book only focuses on mornings though, so some of what Stelter writes cannot be generalized. Stelter describes morning television as "a feast for people with curiosity about a lot of different things. Everything fits under the morning television tent." It is a very worthy subject of the expository book.
David Rhodes, current President of CBS News says there's a morning orthodoxy that says, "it's 8:19 a.m. and we're sautéing onions." And when anyone asks why we're doing that, we say, "because it's 8:19... that's what you do."
And as trite and corny as it is, I love that about morning television. In 35 minutes on Today or GMA, you'll learn how to organize your closet, make a healthier omelet, how to know when your pet needs to go to the vet, and how to sauté onions.
I love evening news too, though. The history? Unparalleled. The original CBS Evening News world map still sits in CBS's NY Headquarters, and if you smell closely, you cough from Walter Cronkite's tobacco leftovers. Peter Jennings. Dan Rather. David Brinkley. Edward R. Murrow. Are these men not the John Hancocks of television?
Meredith Viera tells a story of attending a Virginia Tech vigil and students came up to her and asked for a hug because their own parents couldn't be there. She says this is something humbling about Today... that she became an extension of the viewer's home life and family, and in times of extreme discomfort and pain, she can heal hearts.
Her story is not unique though, and anchors on morning and evening shows alike agree that television is a powerful medium for connections.
But it's ratings, not connections, that steals the spotlight and most of the ink on these pages. As interesting and different it is to have the lens into 30 Rock, the book is about how Today fell to number two, and Ann Curry had to go. Stelter uses a metaphor of a horse carousel, and describes the day GMA won as the day "one of the carousel steeds turned into Secretariat and galloped right off the ride."
And morning television has not been the same since.
You heard it here first,