Morning shows have been around for 38 years, so all three networks have had ample time to perfect the formula: a little news, a little weather, a lot of over-easy features and interviews, and enough repetition to penetrate the consciousness of the sleepiest or most transient viewer. ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS This Morning each contain about an hour of original material stretched into two. The other hour — of teasers, commercials, chitchat, and repeats, re-repeats, and re-re-repeats of the news and weather — gives the audience a chance to go about its morning’s business without missing a thing.
Tastes in a.m. TV are personal and elusive — some people base their choices on deep private convictions about Bryant Gumbel’s personality or Joan Lunden’s hair; others just want eight minutes of news on their way out the door. In fact, there are differences in the content of the three network morning shows, but they’re all the same in one respect: They leave a lot out. So, if you’re not happy with the new Today, the old GMA, or the ever-changing lineup at CBS, take action. The ideal morning show is in your hands — as long as you’re holding a remote control — and here’s a rundown of what you can find, based on a weeklong survey of the airwaves.
7:00-7:08 All three networks begin with banter between the anchors, hints of coming attractions in the next hour, and a quick rundown of news — the rough equivalent of reading the headlines and a paragraph or two on the front page of your paper. Charles Osgood’s presentation on CBS is brief but thorough, and elegantly written — a good way to begin the day. GMA’s Mike Schneider, abetted by ABC’s strong news division, is just as good, but NBC, still auditioning replacements for former newsreader Deborah Norville, is a big step behind.
If the three networks provide the equivalent of a front page, local and cable alternatives give the rest of the paper — metro news, sports, business, and weather — in megadoses.
Surprisingly, CNN’s half-hour edition of Daybreak at 7 a.m. doesn’t provide hard news at greater length than its network counterparts, but it’s a decent alternative that begins with about 10 minutes of news. FNN’s World Business Update, from 7 to 8 a.m., offers numberheads a thorough daily take on the economy (and nothing but the economy), complete with a ticker of business headlines and foreign stock quotations. Where I live, Good Day New York offers local stories that the networks miss; shows like it are in the works around the country. And for hardcore meteorological cultists, long-distance travelers, and mothers who want to call their grown children thousands of miles away to tell them how to dress, the Weather Channel provides more than enough information about the friendly (or not) skies. A procession of maps, an alphabetical scroll of city-by-city forecasts, and such intriguing specialty items as the Boat & Beach Report are staples of the channel’s report.