The Pop of King

My Morning People

Stephen King on why he couldn't care less Katie is leaving ''Today.'' The Pop of King reveals why he doesn't tune in to network morning shows to get his wake-up fix

MEADE
MEADE

Stephen King on why he couldn't care less Katie is leaving ''Today''

So Katie Couric is leaving Today after roughly 40 years on the job (nah, I'm playin' witcha — she started as coanchor in 1991; it just seems longer). She's going to CBS, where she'll become a new star in the network news firmament...or so the Big Eye hopes. I'll be sorry to see current CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer go — I had come to trust and rather depend on that homely, honest, and somehow comforting bloodhound's face — but as far as Miz Katie leaving Today? Sorry, couldn't care less. It's been over two years since I tuned in to one of the network morning shows to get my wake-up fix. These days I go straight to Channel 27, where I find CNN's cute baby sister, Headline News (which, like Entertainment Weekly, is owned by Time Warner). And there, between 7 and 8 a.m. — which happens to be when I rise and shine, Sunshine — I visit Robin & Company, with Robin Meade and her band of colorful, not-ready-for-network cohorts.

I doubt very much if Ms. Meade earns the big Katie Couric bucks, but she runs a four-hour marathon that would probably leave her better-known network counterparts exhausted, and does so with considerable style and panache (not to mention some killer outfits). Of course, the primary order of each day's business is — for me, at least — to make sure that none of the world's major cities blew up during the night and that Mr. Bush did not choke to death on his own syntax, thus making Dick Cheney (known in my family as Darth Maul) president. After that, though, I can move on to Ms. Meade and her supporting cast.

There's Rally Caparas, Robin & Company's ''Eye on the Sky.'' Monday to Thursday, Rally (the name alone is a meal) appears by phone, telling air travelers in which airports they'll be cooling their heels for a couple of hours. On Fridays, Rally shows up in person and schmoozes with the beautiful Ms. Meade. Mr. Caparas ain't exactly chopped liver himself, especially if you enjoyed Under Siege. His resemblance to Steven Seagal in his prime — especially the scrooped-back hair and ponytail — is pretty amazing. Besides, I live for the days when Rally tells me, ''Everything is hunky-dory on the East Coast.'' Right back atcha, Rally!

No pudgy weatherman bantering with the crowd on Robin & Company. Bob Van Dillen delivers the weather with his legs slightly spread and one hand cocked into a fist on his computer clicker, making him look like a clean-cut hero from an old Warner Bros. TV adult Western — Bronco, maybe, or Cheyenne. When Bob says ''That cold front is hangin' tough,'' as he often does, you know that front is one tough mother.

The sports guy, Will Selva, looks as openly honest as a pre-steroids baseball player...but there's wit at work beneath that wide-eyed, innocent stare. While showing footage of Darth Maul throwing out the traditional first pitch at the Washington Nationals' home opener, Selva narrated: ''Vice President Dick Cheney rifling the ball to home plate...I'm sorry. That was beggin' for it.''

Robin answered, of course, with the gurgling laugh that I've come to depend on to turn my engine in the morning. During the recent NCAA tournament, Robin, Bob the Weather Guy, Rally the Eye on the Sky Guy, and Will the Sports Guy showed their tattered Final Four predictions and discussed their horrid picks. There was nothing studied or artful about this conversation, but to my ear — which is pretty carefully tuned — it sounded both real and rueful, the talk of people who actually like each other. And loose? Jeez, Louise. If they were any looser, you'd be waiting for the wheels to come off.

I must mention Robin & Company's entertainment reporter. I couldn't care less about the latest Britney Spears item, but I'd gladly listen to pork-belly futures delivered in Adrianna Costa's breathless, faux–Joan Rivers ''Can we talk?'' tones. And some of her stories have a Zen strangeness that sticks in the just-waking mind like Velcro. ''[Pooh] is 80 years old!'' she exclaimed to Robin one morning, after the de rigueur American Idol story. ''And he looks so good!''

If this were just happy news — Pooh, or the daffy-ass story about why dirty kids are healthy kids — Robin and her pals would be dismissable. But Meade, who won an Emmy in 1996 for coverage of a train-schoolbus collision in Illinois, is no dummy. She can summon the gravitas appropriate to the ongoing slaughter in Iraq; her questioning of reporters covering political news is sharp and pointed. This is a quick intellect, and it's a pleasure to watch it at work on a major news story. Much of CNN Headline News' daily coverage feels canned (and at night there's the odious Nancy Grace — let's not go there), but Robin & Company rarely sags, even though, at four hours, it's twice the length of most network morning shows and the stories themselves recycle constantly.

That first hour in the morning is a vulnerable hour for me. I'm careful whom I admit into my home when I'm still half-dressed with shaving cream slathered on my face. Robin Meade and her friends are good company then. More important, they're smart company. Never mind Today and GMA; as far as I'm concerned, Robin & Company is the little engine that could.

Originally posted Apr 20, 2006 Published in issue #874-875 Apr 28, 2006 Order article reprints
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