Lionel Adds His Two Cents as Early PIX Morning News Host

You have to give WPIX/Channel 11 and news director Bill Carey credit for constantly changing viewers minds for what a traditional newscast should look like.

The station, seeking a piece of the competitive morning race, is reinventing the wheel again. By making night time commentator Lionel as host of the 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., WPIX wants to lift itself out of the early hours abyss. In turn, the station would use that lead-in on the PIX Morning News with Sukanya Krishnan and Frances Rivera.

If you’ve watched PIX News at 10, then you’ve seen Lionel pontificate about a wide range of pressing matters. He’s given more than two minutes each night to weave a story with good writing, some humor and a dose of histrionics.

In the morning, right from the opening title, this is Lionel’s show. There are several shots of Lionel at Grand Central Terminal with his one name on the screen, before showing PIX Morning News. All that’s missing is the late Ed McMahon‘s…”Here’s Lionel!” Incidentally, later in the morning, there is no talent displayed in the open.

But Lionel transcends news. He’s no anchor or reporter. He transfers those commentary skills, finding the best use for his talent in the morning. It’s akin to what PIX did with Jodi Applegate when the 10 p.m. newscast was reformatted to fit her strengths.

Lionel is, in effect, a “DVD commentary” of the day’s news. The early edition of the PIX Morning News still features Tamsen Fadal with the headlines and Craig Treadway covering additional stories from the newsroom.

After Fadal finishes the news update, or out of a Treadway piece, Lionel is waiting to deliver three bulletpoints enhancing the last story. His “delving deeper,” or “drilling down” is called “Need to Know.” But other than a brief introduction to Treadway or Fadal, Lionel’s only “comments” in two hours are the things you “Need to Know.” Yes, Lionel does provide the all-important time-check out of his segments, and as host, opens the program. But essentially that’s it. Traffic and weather updates are taken cold.

The worst part of the extra Lionel in the morning is that each segment lasts only 30 to 40 seconds. Even in short bursts, he is compelling to watch. But, while he can be insightful, Lionel is not usually breaking new ground. Also, gone are the witty remarks. Lionel does put his stamp on the “Need to Know,” but in a much more concentrated version than his 10 p.m. persona. Before dawn, his comments have a more scripted feel and definitely “on the clock.”

It’s no wonder WPIX is jockeying for position in the am. The revamped morning news was rolled out July 2, the same day that WNYW/Channel 5 welcomed Dave Price to Good Day New York. It was also the debut of WLNY’s The Couch.

Lionel does provide some information to early rising Channel 11 viewers, but it’s unlikely many will stick around long enough to see a ratings improvement.

Perhaps, WPIX can try reinventing the wheel again.