It was a year ago that CBS rebooted its morning show. CBS This Morning became CBS Mornings. Nate Burleson joined the anchor team, with Anthony Mason departing from the host table to cover arts and culture. The program moved from the CBS Broadcast Center to Times Square.
Key to the September 7 revamp was making the weekday morning show more of a piece with CBS Sunday Morning, with Neeraj Khemlani, president and co-head of CBS News and Stations, saying how all CBS News morning programs “will now be part of the same family.”
Central to the reboot is Burleson (see sidebar), who shares the table with Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil, with correspondent Vlad Duthiers a regular presence as well. Burleson was an NFL wide receiver before he retired in 2014. He joined CBS Sports in 2017 as an analyst on The NFL Today, and still pitches in at Sports.
Dokoupil called Burleson “a fantastic addition to the team.”
“He’s incredibly funny, he’s incredibly quick and he can tap dance through anything,” Dokoupil added. “When we have 25 seconds to kill, I’m just like, Nate, take it away …”
Easy Like ‘Sunday Morning’
When the reboot was announced last year, CBS News spoke of CBS Mornings and the weekend morning programs sharing “a similar look and editorial breadth.”
“We play up the fact that we have some amazing storytellers,” said Shawna Thomas, the CBS Mornings executive producer. “We write beautiful stories, we tell beautiful stories that take us places. Why not really, really capitalize upon that?”
When Nate Burleson joined the morning show a year ago, CBS News management gushed about his unique talents. Neeraj Khemlani, president and co-head of CBS News and Stations, called him “an extremely gifted broadcaster, interviewer and storyteller” with a range of interests that goes well beyond sports.
Burleson played 11 years as an NFL wide receiver, then spent five years hosting NFL Network’s Good Morning Football before joining CBS. He likens learning from co-anchors Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil to watching Randy Moss during his NFL days. While fans saw Moss shine during games, Burleson also saw how hard the Hall of Famer worked in practice.
“It’s rare to work with people who make you challenge yourself,” Burleson said. “I know I can’t walk in unprepared … I know for damn sure Tony will be overprepared, and so will Gayle.”
CBS News figures are still talking up Burleson’s talents a year later. King mentioned how Burleson offers “a whole different energy and a whole different information pool.” Dokoupil likens working with Burleson to “a buddy flick.”
“Nate approaches our show the same way he approached football, which is, try it, if it doesn’t work, you fix it,” said Dokoupil. “He prepares, he’s diligent and he has a mountain of talent. And so what comes out when the camera turns on is all great.”
Shawna Thomas, executive producer of CBS Mornings, said she could sense Burleson’s gift when he filled in on the morning show last year. “There’s a thing that people have on television,” she said. “Nate walked into the studio, and he had the thing.” — MM
Jonathan Klein, former CNN U.S. president and, before that, a producer on CBS Morning News, called it a smart move. “Riding the coattails of the extremely successful CBS Sunday Morning makes a lot of sense,” he said.
That means giving the correspondents a bit more room to tell their story. They’re getting more used to playing in that expanded space, Thomas said, and are increasingly pitching stories that can work best in the longer format. “That breeds energy; that breeds more ideas,” she said.
A great CBS Sunday Morning story, Thomas added, features an unexpected twist that makes the viewer say, “Oh.” That’s a goal on CBS Mornings.
Most of the show staff falls in the 25-54 age bracket, Thomas noted, and all are encouraged to “make the show you want to watch.”
Thomas took over CBS This Morning in February 2021. Klein called her “smart, with a good sense of strategy, good with people.”
It’s hardly the first time CBS News has rebooted its morning show. CBS This Morning came to be in 2012, replacing The Early Show and offering more hard news than NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America typically did.
CBS continues to trail both shows. In July, Good Morning America averaged 2,949,000 total viewers and 632,000 in the 25-54 demo. Today had 2,714,000 and 628,000, while CBS Mornings tallied 2,277,000 and 460,000.
All three shows are down year over year, but CBS Mornings has seen women 25-54 go up 4% year to date, while GMA is down 21% in that demographic and Today is off 22%. Women 25-54 went up 11% in the second quarter for CBS.
“That’s not nothing,” Klein said. “That’s hard to do.”
Local Boots on the Ground
In spring 2021, CBS merged CBS News and the owned station group, with George Cheeks, president and CEO of CBS Entertainment, saying how it would best position both divisions for the way media is consumed today and will be in the future. CBS Mornings is increasingly relying on both owned stations and affiliates to pitch in when major news breaks in a given market. Speaking in August, Thomas mentioned a story about Muslim men being killed in Albuquerque, with affiliate KRQE contributing.
“I’ve seen the difference in communication with the affiliates,” Thomas said. “We seem to be working a lot closer. There seems to be more sharing of information, and getting stuff on
Gayle King, whose local TV credits include anchoring at WFSB Hartford and WDAF Kansas City before coming to CBS, knows the unique role played by station personnel in breaking news. “For breaking stories, one of the best sources of information are the locals,” she said. “They will know the police chief’s name, how long they’ve been there. They will know the victim and they will know the
Sign of the Times
CBS Mornings is based at 1515 Broadway, in the heart of Times Square, a far cry from the previous program’s home at the CBS Broadcast Center, on 57th Street and not far from the Hudson River. (Few sites in Manhattan can be called remote, but the CBS Broadcast Center has a legit claim.)
King mentioned the “vitality and energy” of the new locale, even in the early morning, when she arrives at work. “You start your day feeling energized the moment you walk into the building,” she said.
Dokoupil said the crush of humankind around Times Square is an effective “reminder of who’s on the other side of the camera.”
Gone from the host table is Anthony Mason, who joined CBS News in 1986 and anchored the morning program starting in 2019. When his departure from the anchor role was revealed last year, Khemlani spoke of a “tailor-made” new role for Mason that enabled him “to do what he loves most — reporting stories about culture.”
His recent stories include profiles of Joni Mitchell and country singer-songwriter John Anderson. King said Mason has a knack for getting the viewer interested in an artist they may be unfamiliar with. “I don’t feel like I miss him because we see him a lot,” she said.
Thomas added that keeping Mason as “a major part of the show was a big goal of mine.”
As year two of CBS Mornings unfolds, Thomas and the anchors aim to keep the growth going. “We’ll keep telling really interesting stories and keep figuring out what really resonates with viewers,” Thomas said. ▪️
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.