We last spoke with CBS Saturday Morning executive producer Brian Applegate in November 2022, days after the morning show topped NBC’s Saturday Today in the ratings, both in total viewers and among adults 25-54 for the first time ever.
“We’ve found a lot of success with longer features and taking the viewers outside of the studio,” said Applegate. “Less talk, more taking viewers to somewhere interesting, introducing them to someone fascinating, and just exposing them to things that they may have missed in their busy lives.”
This past Saturday, SATMO (as the show is known internally) celebrated another achievement: The 500th edition of its music performance segment Saturday Sessions, which showcases up-and-coming bands and legends in the music industry.
A few of those bands have become household names, including Boygenius, the featured performer for this past Saturday’s broadcast. Boygenius comprises Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker. All three performers got their individual TV debuts on Saturday Sessions years ago.
CBS Saturday Morning also celebrated this special occasion by airing a piece on Saturday Sessions’ history and an interview with Boygenius by former CBS weekday and Saturday Morning anchor Anthony Mason.
The success of Saturday Sessions helped CBS Saturday Morning score a 2023 Emmy nomination for the segment on a performance with Oscar, Tony, and Grammy winner David Byrne.
We caught up with Applegate after the end of this past week’s broadcast, where we talked about the overall success of CBS Saturday Morning, the chemistry between its anchors (Jeff Glor, Michelle Miller, and Dana Jacobson), and of course, Saturday Sessions.
*This interview has been lightly edited for clarity purposes.
TVNewser: What do you think makes CBS Saturday Morning unique?
Applegate: It’s a dynamic show. It’s a show that encompasses all the facets of life. In addition to covering the news, we also try to show the best life has to offer. Whether that’s interviewing people doing amazing things across the country or interesting authors, unique locations, chefs, or music they listen to. We try to cover it all.
One thing about the show that stands out is the chemistry between Jeff, Michelle, and Dana. Can you talk about that?
All three of them came to the show in very different ways, but they all had one thing in common, which is they were all fans of the show, and they watched it for years before coming aboard, and that enabled them to kind of dip right into the vibe of the show, from day one. Also, all three of them are key to the success of the show.
All three of them also serve as correspondents on the show and contribute pieces nearly every week to the show. So, they’re getting out there covering the stories that our viewers have come to love, and then they get to chat about it, you know, after the piece airs. That leads to a real genuine feeling of interest in the stories being told and the insight that the piece is lent, and they are also friends. They all get along and like working together, and each brings something unique to the table.
Why do you think long-form storytelling works on CBS Saturday Morning?
The weekend, obviously, lends itself to a more relaxed, longer viewing. People that watch our show are able to dive a little bit deeper and sit back and relax. They’re not rushing off to their weekday lives. So, they’re able to absorb longer pieces, and once we started doing that ten years ago, we found the show began to grow. People started to love the vibe of it, and it’s a lot of fun to do those kinds of stories.
Since you took on the role of executive producer, SATMO finally beat the Saturday version of Today. To what can you attribute to the show’s [Nielsen ratings] success?
It’s definitely been a slow grassroots growth to the show. Every week we find we’ve been narrowing the gap to the competition each and every week for nearly ten years now. We’ve had a few weeks where we got into second place, and it’s just word of mouth, more and more people checking out the show and sticking to its original vision.
You were responsible for launching Saturday Sessions in 2013. How did the segment come about?
I had watched musical performances on TV and just wanted to do it differently. We wanted to expose real music from real musicians who weren’t getting the attention from the other broadcasts.
Was it a hard pitch to the CBS News executives?
The joy of having a weekend show is you can be a little bit more free to try and play with different segments. This is one where I wanted to start and stick to and see if it could grow over the years, and management allowed me the time and runway to do that.
What has been your favorite Saturday Sessions?
(Laughs) I get asked this a lot. I can’t list favorites because each booking is unique. Getting the big bookings is certainly fun, but finding the next big act is just as satisfying. Then, of course, you look into which performances were the strongest, making it very hard to choose the best.
Is there one performance that has stood out to you?
The one we did this week for 500 is easily the most meaningful because it’s the band BoyGenius, and it’s a super group of three remarkable singer-songwriters made up of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julian Baker, who all three had their TV debut on Saturday sessions. So to see them combine forces and take the world by storm and then to have them back on was one of the most satisfying things we’ve ever done.
Pivoting back to your three co-anchors, with a fun little rapid-fire exercise where you give quick impressions on them. What makes Jeff Glor special?
Jeff is a fantastic writer and a fantastic anchor whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with for over 20 years.
What makes Michelle Miller special?
Michelle brings incredible heart and emotion to every story she covers. She has great empathy, and there’s no one like her.
And finally, what makes Dana Jacobson special?
Dana is my rock. She is one of the best broadcasters I’ve ever worked with, and I love her energy.
Bonus question, I have one more name. What makes Anthony Mason special?
(Laughs) Let me think on that for a second. So, Anthony was my north star when I first started on this show 10 years ago.
That is such a tough answer. Trying to think of how to answer that.
Basically, the ethos of the show he and I worked on that together. He and I worked together to create the vibe of the show initially, and his support during those years meant everything to the early success of SATMO.
Final question, Who came up with the elongating of the word Saturday?
(Laughs) Anthony Mason. That’s true. One day he drew it out, and then they started topping it each week, and then viewers started to catch on.