CBS Successfully Reinvigorated Its Morning Show by Going Back to the Basics and Covering News

Ratings are edging ever closer to rivals GMA and Today

CBS This Morning hosts Norah O'Donnell, Charlie Rose and Gayle King
Photo: John Paul Filo/CBS

When CBS News set out to reinvent its morning show in 2011—after years of frequent hosting shake-ups failed to move the ratings needle— the organization went back to the basics. “The problem with the show we were doing,” said CBS News president David Rhodes, “was that it was a copy of somebody else’s show. We had to do something that was us.”

So they cut out cooking segments and concerts, set a round table in the middle of a glass, steel and brick studio—one that eyed the CBS News legacy—and covered the news.

Since its launch in January 2012, CBS This Morning, with Gayle King, Norah O’Donnell and Charlie Rose, is the only one of the major morning shows that is consistently adding audience, adding 1.2 million viewers, or 47 percent, from 2.5 million viewers in the 2011-12 season to 3.7 million now. Even so, CBS This Morning still trails its competitors. GMA remains king, with 4.6 million viewers (down 6 percent), followed closely by Today at 4.4 million viewers (down 18 percent).

“We recognized there was an opportunity to put on a really good broadcast,” said executive producer Ryan Kadro, who spent nearly two years with CBS This Morning’s predecessor, The Early Show, before being tasked with building the new program. “One of the most important things we did was winning the cynics. That was really important to changing the culture and getting people to buy in.”

The ratings growth has boosted the network’s bottom line. On CBS’ earnings call in February, chairman and CEO Les Moonves said CBS This Morning propelled CBS News “to 16 percent overall revenue growth across the division.”

“The advertising community is always looking for something new and different,” said Jo Ann Ross, president of sales for CBS TV. “Every category is now interested. They know they are getting an educated and intelligent audience.”

“Everything that’s counterintuitive about the show is why it works. Charlie is the world’s greatest interviewer,” explained Rhodes. “Gayle asks the questions that are on everybody’s mind. Norah is thought of as a Washington person and look how valuable that perspective is.”

He added: “It’s been a total transformation.”

This story first appeared in the May 1, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.