How Morning News Shows Are Providing Normalcy During the Pandemic

CBS This Morning Gayle King
CBS

You're not the only one commuting from bed to kitchen table to start your workday while under coronavirus stay-at-home orders. Turn on the TV and you'll see CBS This Morning's Gayle King reporting from home while Today's Savannah Guthrie, at her Upstate New York house, checks in with Hoda Kotb, co-anchoring from the NYC studios.

"There was never a worry the show might not go on," says Today exec producer Libby Leist of the quick move to mostly remote broadcasts. (Weatherman Al Roker and cohost Carson Daly are also at home, while news anchor Craig Melvin is back at the studio.) "Our goal is the same: Inform people, bring practical solutions and make them smile."

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A personal connection led to some heightened emotions during one of her news stories Friday morning.

But first they all had to meet the challenge of operating with on-air talent scattered in many locations. All three CBS This Morning anchors — King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil — are working from home and, notes exec producer Diana Miller, "We had to change almost everything about the way we produce the show."

(Credit: NBC)

Regardless of where the newscasters are, says Good Morning America's remote anchor Robin Roberts, "many people are craving normalcy, and seeing us is the way they start their day." (At GMA, anchors Michael Strahan and Amy Robach are in the studio; George Stephanopoulos is shooting at home.) With so much grim news, the specialty of these programs — balancing hard facts with upbeat human-interest stories — is much needed. "We feel the responsibility of making sure we put on a show that is informative, accurate, has up-to-date news, but that also sets a tone of hope," says Guthrie.

Clearly, these a.m. staples are on the right track — ratings for all three are rising. Today saw a 15 percent increase in total viewers during the week of March 23 compared to the same period in 2019. The following week, GMA was up 14 percent and CBS This Morning up 11 percent in the same comparison.

(Credit: ABC)

But it's less about the numbers and more about being there for the audience. "I’ve heard from so many viewers who are saying thank you – for the news, for the companionship, for the concerted effort to separate the facts from the fears. And meanwhile we’re the one’s feeling thankful for our viewers!" says CBS This Morning co-anchor Tony Dokoupil.

Working from home has also been interesting when it comes to hair, makeup and wardrobe that the on-air talent now is doing themselves. "The way you look — not by choice but my necessity — always communicates a lot about the story you’re covering," adds Dokoupil. "That look immediately told the viewer: these are not normal times. Not only do I think people forgive that, I think they understand it. We’re all in this together."

And with the coronavirus sure to be the top headline for months to come, these series will continue to spotlight how Americans are coping. "A big part of this is how the country has come together to fight this virus," says GMA executive producer Michael Corn. "It's truly brought out the best in people."