Rise & Shine
Road Show: Chris Wragge & Co. tout CBS morning debut — and sing a little bit,too
If it's Tuesday, it must be Houston.
There was a little bit of a "What city are we in?" feeling at the Four Seasons Hotel last night as the new CBS morning show crew rolled into town for a whirlwind visit. Chris Wragge, Erica Hill, Jeff Glor and Marysol Castro are midway through a week-long cross-country promotional tour to rev up excitement for their Jan. 3 debut on The Early Show (7-9 a.m. weekdays, Channel 11).
But Wragge, who was a popular Houston sports anchor at KPRC (Channel 2) from 2000-2004 before heading to New York to first anchor the sports and then news at the CBS affiliate, knew exactly where he was.
"I actually come back a lot," he said, noting he was in Houston four months ago. "I have a lot of great friends still here. I come down an average of twice a year, more if I can. I love it down here."
So what did Wragge tell his colleagues about Houston?
"I told them we're coming here during a good time of year, because every other day, on a cool day it's about 106, with the level of humidity," he said. "We're all from places we love, but this was some of the best people I've ever encountered. The toughest part about this trip is not having enough time to see a bunch of people."
It's no wonder Wragge is all business this time around. He and his new team have a new challenge: Create some sparks in the brutal morning TV wars. And it won't be easy.
The Today Showjuggernaut with Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera keeps chugging along with about 5-1/2-million weekday viewers, whileGood Morning America with Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos places a respectable second at 4.6 million. The most recent version of The Early Show, with Harry Smith and Maggie Rodriguez, has trailed far behind — at around 3 million — and generated virtually no buzz in recent years.
So what is CBS's new plan? Don't reinvent the wheel.
Wragge and Hill, a former CNN anchor who I noticed a few years ago when she bantered back and forth with Anderson Cooper nightly, will co-anchor the weekday broadcast, with Castro explaining the weather and Glor providing news updates. The first half hour of the broadcast will be heavily news oriented, with the remaining 90 minutes progressively softer, so that by the last half-hour is won't be surprising to see Wragge in an apron making a souffle with a chef.
In short, The Early Show is going to look a lot like its competitors.
"One of the great things about morning television is that is it is a habit for people," said Hill, who has teamed with Wragge on the CBS Saturday morning show for two years. "They expect to get their headlines and know what happened overnight. They expect to have something fun to talk about at work or school dropoff or whatever their schedule may entail that day. One of the challenges for us is making sure that those people can maybe switch a little bit of that habit in terms of turning the channel and do that daily routine with us."
Wragge puts it more succinctly. "You've got best friends you hang out with a lot, but every once in while you meet new people and you say, you know what, I wouldn't mind having dinner with them and hang out with them a little while. And that's what we hope to do."
"We know there are some habits that are tough to break on morning television. But no one says this show can't flourish. There is no mandate that the other two shows can have a patent on success and it can't happen here. We're due."
At an hour where personality is everything, executive producer David Friedman is convinced CBS has a team in place to make a run at the other morning shows.
"Content and bookings matter. But at the end of the day, the viewers are going to choose the team they want to watch. And that is why we put this team together," Friedman said. "We think they are very likable and the right selection for viewers to get the news of the day."
While Friedman has some special tricks (a game of random questions with the team during the first week) and blockbuster interviews (a White House session with President Obama is a possibility) planned, he believes the show will rise or fall on the anchors' rapport with the audience. Wragge and Hill "have a chemistry and a history together," Friedman said. "You cannot underestimate how important that is."
What has the duo learned from working together?
"We know we've got each other's back," Wragge said. "We know if either one of us misses a step or if we're having a bad morning that neither one of us is going to allow the other to look bad. It makes your job so much easier when you know you can rely on your partner."
And they have other talents, too.
When asked what's one thing the world doesn't know about Hill, Wragge said she has "probably one of the most beautiful singing voices."
"You stole what I was going to say about you," Hill replied.
"There you have it — we both have two of the best singing voices," Wragge bragged.
"We like to sing or even sometimes hum," Hill asserted.
"We'll be in a serious mode before showtime, sitting at the desk and going through a packet and then one of us goes,"Love, love will keep us together," Wragge sang, in a passable imitation of the Captain and Tennille classic.
"I may be a Gleek but they have nothing on us," Hill boasted.
Wragge, a New York tabloid favorite due to his boyish blond looks and fractious divorce from Swedish model Victoria Silvstedt, has another talent, too. Although he is the only one of the four without kids, "they all trust me to babysit," he said.
I see an Early Show segment comin' on.