CBS has historically lagged behind the competition in the morning-news wars. That’s no longer the case in the Twin Cities.
Between reading headlines and bantering with co-host Jamie Yuccas Thursday on the“WCCO Morning Show,” Jason DeRusha decided to have a snack on the air.
He choked down a raw egg.
“The egg tasted pretty good, actually. Silky, with the eggy essence you’d expect,” DeRusha said later of his bit that mimicked David Letterman’s from the night before. “Who am I kidding? It was pretty gross. But anything for the show.”
That attitude also led DeRusha to tweet passionately from Miley Cyrus’ concert and pose in downtown Minneapolis as David Caruso’s character on “CSI: Miami.” Not behavior typically exhibited by a local news anchor, but it’s a key reason why Channel 4’s morning program has grown 18 percent in total viewers since a new anchor team was installed in June — a remarkable feat considering that early risers are slow to trade allegiances.
Not only is “WCCO Morning Show” now the top-rated wake-up program in the Twin Cities, but “CBS This Morning” also has ascended to No. 1 in the Twin Cities for the first time in recent memory.
In fact, “CBS This Morning” has jumped 19 percent, making the Twin Cities the largest market in the country in which CBS is ahead of ratings heavyweights “Good Morning, America” and “Today.”
“I’m surprised there has been this much growth this quickly,” said Norah O’Donnell, who co-hosts the national show with Charlie Rose and Gayle King. “That we’re No. 1 in Minneapolis means we’re really putting points on the scoreboard.”
The evolution of “CBS This Morning” started with the 2011 hiring of executive producer Chris Licht, who had previously created “Morning Joe” for MSNBC.
In addition to recruiting veterans instead of flavor-of-the-day personalities, Licht shucked many of the staples of morning TV — live concerts, cooking segments, fashion shows — allowing time for longer feature pieces and more in-depth conversation around the set’s modest table.
The most notable omission: the chipper weatherman.
“Weather on a national show is only useful if you’ve never heard of the Weather Channel or you don’t have an Internet connection,” said WCCO’s meteorologist director, Mike Augustyniak. “When weather is in the news, they can cut to me or other local experts at CBS stations.”
Another innovation that’s been effective is the “Eye Opener,” a 90-second sizzle reel of the day’s top events that kicks off every edition. A team of editors works through the night to assemble the fast-paced segment.
“I’m a vice president for news, and their room is the only one I’m intimidated going into,” Licht said.
The WCCO team was so impressed with “Eye Opener” that it adapted its own version, “Four Things You Need to Know,” which closes out the 4:30 to 7 a.m. broadcast. WCCO also borrowed some sweeping camera shots and the idea of playing pop music underneath news reports.
“If Charlie Rose can do it, we can definitely do it,” DeRusha said. “They push the envelope by doing serious news with people who are fun. We can tap into that same thing.”
Camaraderie is hard to fake on live television, especially over the span of 180 minutes at a time of day when many of us are at our grouchiest and most pessimistic.
Either the WCCO duo has Guthrie-level acting chops or they genuinely like other.