By the time CBS re-launched its morning show in January, the other networks’ morning shows had been eating its lunch for decades. Good Morning America had twice the audience CBS did, to say nothing of industry-leading Today.
Today had done it by largely forgoing real news, instead mixing self-help stuff, cooking segments and celebrity twaddle with lots of weather and lots of screaming fans outside Rockefeller Center.
CBS had tried to mimic this for a while (GMA did too, with greater success) but when the network announced that Charlie Rose — PBS’ Larry King for smart people — would be coming aboard alongside Gayle King (famous for being Oprah’s friend), they also announced an about-face.
There would be more news in Rose’s This Morning, not less. And the news would be harder — humanitarian disasters instead of celebrity drug scandals. But how much harder is harder?
We’re glad you asked.
We spent an evening analyzing and comparing the news mix of Today and This Morning side by side. We used episodes from the same day, so our comparisons were based on the same news cycle.
The verdict? Compared with the league-leader, This Morning is quite a bit harder, thank you. Hard-news pieces — Republican primary analysis, the Afghan killings, a new crisis in Sudan, poverty in India — made up 37 percent of the news mix on CBS under Charlie Rose. On the Today show, under Matt Lauer and Ann Curry, this sort of information made up barely 13 percent of the content. Both relied heavily on more sensationalized news — bus crashes, extreme weather, that bad power outage in Boston — but the real difference was the sheer amount of celebrity twaddle This Morning didn’t bother with.
Today ran stories on the dude who adopted his girlfriend, Jenny Garth’s divorce (with Twitter reactions!), and a mind-numbing six minutes on Nicollette Sheridan’s wrongful-termination suit. CBS didn’t mention any of this.
The divide is perhaps most evident when they covered the same stories. After the Mississippi and Alabama primaries, CBS spent most of its segment with its analysts while Today spent most of its time letting Santorum, Gingrich and Romney shout sound bites back and forth. CBS went for depth, NBC went for pageantry.
Not sure how long this experiment will last (viewership isn’t rising), but while it does, there’s a home for people who are more interested in Sudan than what George Clooney’s been doing there.
Here's my minute-by-minute breakdown of the two shows, color-coded by hard news, soft news, and twaddle. Mouse over each slice for more information.