They may not command the same attention as their counterparts at ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, or CBS Mornings, but Cheddar News’ Baker Machado and Shannon LaNier act like the mornings belong to them and are eager to make the most of their opportunity.
The morning duo, alongside Katie Sands and Arielle Hixson, bring viewers up to speed using a business casual approach to all that’s happening in the world on Wake Up With Cheddar.
The millennial-focused Cheddar News, which is mostly geared towards covering business and technology news, sees an opening in the highly competitive morning news daypart, and Machado and LaNier are looking to exploit that gap.
The digital news network launched by Jon Steinberg in 2016 and is now owned and operated by Altice USA, part of the Altice Newsgroup, is keenly aware that its audience consumes news differently and tries to reach them where they are, which is on their streaming devices.
LaNier joined Machado on Wake Up with Cheddar this past summer, and the two of them, alongside Sands and Hixson, have already established a good working rapport.
We spoke with them about that rapport, trying to stand out amid an already-crowded morning landscape, capturing the “younger, forward-looking consumer,” and more.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity purposes.
TVNewser: Why do you consider yourselves the Morning Dream Team?
Machado: I feel like we’re so different. What I love about what we’re doing and at Cheddar — we’re trying to sort of reinvent morning television here in a way. Everybody’s sort of got their own show. We know television habits are habitual. People have been watching the same morning shows for 20-30 plus years, and getting my mom to not watch the Today show one day and watch Cheddar News has been the biggest struggle of my life. I’m joking. She watches every morning. We just know how much these habits are ingrained in viewers. We also know that there’s such a huge audience out there looking for something different. Something that’s fresh, that’s happy, that’s less polarizing, gives them the information that they’re sort of looking at but also makes them feel happy about the world. I think especially with what’s been going on over the last couple of years, I think people are looking for something fresh and interesting. I think Shannon and I and what we offer here at Cheddar News is trying be that outlet for other people who are looking for something that’s a little bit different.
LaNier: We have an amazing team here, and Katie Sands joins us in the morning as well now, and we bring you a little of everything. We have the headlines; we have the entertainment; we have the water cooler conversations everybody’s going to be talking about. So you need to get caught up on all this stuff so you can function in your life when everybody’s talking to you. Otherwise, you’re just going to get a news program, and in other places, it’s just “hard news this” and “hard news that,” and we have it all in one place, especially the business side of it as well.
Machado: I think also in this climate—looking from a business perspective—we know based on political preferences, you’re going to get people who are going to watch the news that’s sort of comforting or to their preference. For us, it’s how many sorts of ways can there be the same political story over and over and over again, when there’s so much more that’s out there that we can be discussing. I feel like that was an avenue with this show — to court that that viewer who wants maybe politics, but only once for a couple of minutes, then maybe a science story, then maybe a business story that makes them a more full and more well-rounded sort of news consumer.
Who are you hoping this morning show reaches?
Machado: Our demographic is always sort of been the younger, forward-looking consumer. We’re sort of a social forward-looking show. A lot of our stuff is very social, integrating within a lot of the things that we’re talking about. So if anything, I would see it’s probably your younger, maybe female consumer. I get messages from viewers who are in their 20s. I get (messages from) viewers who are in their 50s and 60s. I think it’s anybody who kind of feels like they’ve been isolated in this news environment and is just looking for something that’s a little bit different, something that’s a little bit fresher.
LaNier: And the exciting thing is we’re not just digital, we’re on television, as well, especially a lot of those people in New York, see us on local TV. You also have people who can take us in their hand; (if) you’re on your cell phone, we have an app, we have the website, we have streaming services, we’re everywhere.
Machado: I think Shannon brings up a good point concerning all these platforms, which obviously have a ton of a lot more money than we do. If you’re watching NBC, it’s hard to sort of get the linear feed on your phone, on social, and on TV. All these other networks are investing heavily in their streaming components, but they are all different channels. MSNBC is different than NBC News Now, which is different than ABC News, which is different than ABC News Live. Whereas with Cheddar, you’re getting that feed in every different way; and it’s on your stream, or it’s on Channel one on Optimum boxes. So in many ways, I feel like our distribution has always been our bread and butter since the beginning of Cheddar.
Morning shows are hard to execute; as you can see, CNN is once again retooling its morning offering. What do you think makes Wake Up with Cheddar work?
Machado: What makes it work? We really like each other and that helps the vibe. I feel like what makes morning television work is these are friends that you’re watching. You’re seeing them every morning because you’re inviting them in their house because you like these people. This is why all the morning shows have worked for so long. I think if you didn’t have sort of that culture of the anchors, enjoying each other’s company, a lot. Shannon and I text over the weekend, we talk to Katie Sands, our correspondent, all the time. If you aren’t friendly with each other, I don’t think it would really work. I think that’s kind of the way we’re trying to sort of make it here is, we are your friends that you’re inviting — that are telling you all this crazy stuff that’s happening, but also, we’re telling you the good news that you also care about at the same time.
LaNier: Yeah. That’s a big difference. Because we also want the viewer to feel like they’re there with us. They’re part of our living room; we’re a part of their living room because it is intimate in the morning, and we don’t want to make things depressing and sad. Yes, we have some of the top headlines we need to get to so viewers can get the updates on the hurricane or what’s happening with the Queen, or what have you. But we also have fun, and I think a lot of people want to wake up and have a good time to start off the day and not just be hit over the head with doom and gloom; I don’t want to do that either; I don’t want to be sad all day.
Machado: You’re right. I feel like we’ve always wanted our viewers to leave our show inspired for the day. I feel like there is, in many ways, a very underserved group of a demographic in the news community. When I’m watching cable news, I feel depressed afterwards.
LaNier: Most of the people I talk to say they don’t watch the news anymore because it’s so depressing.
Machado: So we’re trying to sort of thread that needle, and I feel like we are doing it successfully of informing, giving people the information they care about. It’s not partisan. It’s not hyperbolic. We’re not also bloviating and giving tons of our opinions on things. We’re giving people the information they need and making them feel better at the end of the day.
Are you also intentional about covering business stories featuring minority business owners?
LaNier: I love it, and that’s one of the things I wanted to bring to the table when I got here. Because I had so much background with black businesses coming from Black Enterprise and different things that I’ve worked with and just making sure that we are more diverse and that they’ve been female businesses. We had ChedHer, which is a whole show dedicated the female entrepreneurs. So, I think that’s important, just as well, because they’re watching our shows; they’re tuning into the network. So we have to cater to everyone who’s a possible viewer. I think that reflects who we have behind the scenes, too. It’s not like we’re just showing you diversity in the anchors so we can put on this front and check a box. We’re also doing it behind the scenes and the diversity of the people who work here. I think that is a reflection because they’re the ones who are bringing all the guests and doing all the work behind the scenes producing the content, and putting everything together for us. So we look good.
Machado: Absolutely, Wake Up with Cheddar, our executive producer is a black woman, and our executive producer for our nighttime show, Cheddar News Wrap, is also a black woman. This has been something that is very important, as you (LaNier) mentioned behind the camera as well, just because telling those stories are incredibly important to us, and getting it right for our viewers is incredibly important.
A lot of people are not morning people, but you two have to be that energetic, wake people up, and get them ready for the day.
LaNier: I don’t think I’m a morning person. That’s the funniest thing like people ask, “Are you a morning person? Like no, not really, like if I had my way, I’d wake up at nine o’clock and then go to bed at 2 a.m.
So, how do you overcome that?
LaNier: It’s the job!
Machado: Melatonin becomes your best friend after all of this.
LaNier: But, I also love the fact that when I leave here, I have the rest of the day when most people don’t get out of work until five and six o’clock. I could do personal stuff. We can start our personal stuff at two in the afternoon and get all that stuff done before everybody gets out of work. I like that the stores are less crowded, you can get in and out of the bank faster. So there are some advantages to it. I can go to my kids’ programming after school. I take them to all their after-school curricular activities. So that’s why I love it and just the flexibility that I have.
Machado: You also learn to start lunch earlier, right? At 10:30 am. When places like Chipotle open its doors, you’re the first one in.
Shannon, you talked about your kids; how does working mornings affect your family life, especially when dealing with your kids?
LaNier: Sometimes it’s difficult to get everybody to go to bed on time. The mornings are the worst time to be a parent anyway because you got to get everybody. Nobody wants to wake up; they don’t want to get dressed; they want to go slow, and you have to get them out the door.
Machado: Especially your kids, Shannon. Your kids have a lot of energy.
LaNier: A lot! So I don’t mind missing that. I feel sorry for my wife, but she’s a good drill sergeant. She gets them up and out the door on time, and they never miss the bus. But I like to be there when they’re out of school, and they’re happier and tell me about their day. I shuffle them around to tutoring to basketball or soccer to all these different activities. But I like to be a part of those things. So I think that’s the most impactful part of their day, not the mornings when they’re groggy and like you see them for like 45 minutes before they out the door. So I like being available for them. So I can participate in those parts of their life. Because my mom was a teacher, and a lot of times, she wasn’t able to go to all those activities for me. So I’m making it a point to be able to go to as many things as possible that I can that are impactful to their life and to them growing up. So it can, I guess, positively affect them.
Machado: By the way, one thing Shannon didn’t mention is he talks to his wife and his kids during commercial breaks. I mean, it’s so cute. It’s so adorable. His wife will say we’re on our way to school and he will say Have a great day at school during the commercial break. Still, how ingrained he is in his kids’ life, and I think it’s so amazing.
Finally, what can we expect for Wake Up with Cheddar going forward?
Machado: I have worked in this company for almost seven years, six, seven years. I am so excited about the future of this show. We are just really hitting our stride, more and more people are continuing to recognize us. We’re doing a marketing campaign around us as well, so you’ll be seeing us in subway ads out here soon as well, which is going to be really cool.
I think every day I get a new message from a new viewer that slides into my DM [direct message] that says, “I just stumbled upon you guys. Where have you been?” They enjoy sort of this different breath of fresh air. I just want to reintroduce ourselves to a new audience and a new viewer every day that’s going to become obsessed with us and wants to start their day on a different foot.
LaNier: I’m also excited about the growth that we’re seeing [at Cheddar]. The morning show is just one aspect of how creative and out-of-the-box Cheddar is becoming and willing to try something new and do something different. I’m just starting a new show called Celebrity Lemonade Stand, where we’re interviewing different celebrities about their newest money-making venture. A lot of times, you don’t get to talk to the celebrities about that stuff that people just want to know, “what’s your latest movie? or “which is the latest album out when it comes out?” but we get to talk to them about all their entrepreneurial escapades, the things that they’re doing. I think that is just another tip to the hat of how Cheddar was when I brought the idea to them; they were like, “we love it, let’s do it.” Then about a week later, we’re in meetings and development with this show that has now come to fruition. So, it’s amazing to see how willing they are to try new things. There are a lot of new shows coming too, so on the lookout for that as well.
Machado: In this Netflix streaming world, and especially in this news landscape, we have to think differently about how Cheddar is going to survive this landscape. We have to think out of the box and think about something differently to get that new viewer and that new audience out there. What’s so great about this network is we’re willing to try new things and go after that different audience.
LaNier: And we’re evolving to become better.