The Most Sleep-Deprived Guy in Town

WCVB news viewers are seeing double. Tune in for the 11 p.m. news, and 17-year station vet Ed Harding co-anchors with Liz Brunner, sportscaster Mike Lynch and meteorologist Harvey Leonard. But early risers can also catch him on the Eye Opener morning show from 5 to 7 a.m., with Heather Unruh. In an unusual turn, Harding anchors both. He may have the highest-profile graveyard shift in Boston. He may also be a guy who needs a good nap.

Harding, who had been the station’s weekend sports anchor, crossed over to news five years ago to co-host WCVB’s Eye Opener, the market’s top-rated morning show.

But the station used to place second or third at 11 p.m., behind both WHDH and WBZ in hotly contested Nielsen battles. In order to reinvigorate the broadcast, News Director Coleen Marren and Assistant News Director Neil Ungerleider initiated a nationwide search last year for a new male anchor. Last summer, they were inundated with audition tapes; hundreds overflowed from crates in Marren’s office. Eight prospects were called in for auditions, but no one clicked. That is when Marren turned to Harding. “The right person was already here,” she says.

But, with mornings humming along, WCVB didn’t want to disrupt that show’s chemistry. “Morning news has become increasingly important,” says Marren. So Harding, an empty-nester who lives near the station, agreed to pull double duty. “There is no such thing as a 9-to-5 job anymore,” says Harding. “We’re living in a TiVo society. I can watch The West Wing on Thursdays at 10 a.m. if I want.”

So last November, Harding joined up with Brunner, who was a former Eye Opener anchor herself before she moved to nightside in April 2001. Leonard joined a year later from cross-town rival WHDH, and Lynch is the crew’s old-timer, a fixture at the station since 1985.

The “vampire hours,” as Harding calls them, are paying off. In January, WCVB grabbed top household ratings in late news for the first time since the late 1990s, when Who Wants To Be a Millionaire powered the station’s ratings success. There is still work to be done: WHDH won the key news demo of adults 25-54.

Harding works through the night with a small team of producers. Occasionally, he will sneak home—a short four miles away—for a nap. When he gets off, around 8 a.m., Harding hits the gym and then goes home to sleep.

Harding’s odd schedule did initially confuse viewers. They would call and e-mail, demanding an explanation. This prompted WCVB’s promotions department to intervene. Producers crafted a series of spots to explain Harding’s schedule. In one, a young woman falls asleep watching WCVB late news and, when she tunes in the next morning, Harding is still there. A voiceover says, “How does Ed do it?” Bewildered, the woman says, “And why?” In another spot, experts, including a sleep specialist and a career coach, try to explain Harding’s willingness to work overnight.

WCVB even enlisted Harding’s family for a promo. The spot features his son, daughter, wife and father all offering their explanations. His daughter’s assessment: “Dad’s always been an overachiever.”

Harding’s own answer is simple: “I have two kids in college and bills to pay.”