The Biz: CBS This Morning Rises

TV Guide
Norah O'Donnell, Charlie Rose and Gayle King | Photo Credits: Heather Wines/CBS

The recent birth of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's baby didn't make it onto CBS This Morning. "We were the only morning show that didn't mention it," coanchor Gayle King says proudly. And that's just fine with the increasing number of fans tuning in to the show that relaunched last year as a newsier, tabloid-free alternative to ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today.

The year-to-year audience growth for King and coanchors Charlie Rose and Norah O'Donnell has been as high as 39 percent in recent weeks. With an average of 3 million viewers, CBS scored its best May-sweep morning-ratings performance since 1994. While well behind ABC's 5.7 million and NBC's 4.8 million viewers, the numbers indicate that CBS This Morning has effectively positioned itself to pick up disenchanted Today viewers who may find GMA too frothy. "People come up to me and say, 'You guys actually do news,'" says O'Donnell.

After initial skepticism over his old network's focus on more serious content, former CBS News president Andrew Heyward now counts himself as a regular viewer. "In a fragmented media world, differentiation is the key to success," he says. "They've done that very well." Some of the touches executive producer Chris Licht (formerly of MSNBC's Morning Joe) brought to the show, such as the round glass table that lends itself to conversation among the anchors, have even shown up on other morning programs. "For the first time CBS is not copying anybody in the morning," says Licht. "They are copying us."

What has also helped is a team of anchors who truly like each other. "We have real admiration and respect," says Rose. King adds that her relaxed on-air rapport with Rose has led to questions from viewers about how close they really are. "Women are always asking me about the show," says King. "One asked me 'what is it between you two?' I said 'what do you mean?' She said 'you know what I mean.' I said 'I don't know what you mean.'"

"They're not dating," O'Donnell notes. "There is a genuine affection and friendship that's going on here."

Rose credits the arrival of O'Donnell - who replaced CBS Early Show holdover Erica Hill in September - for helping the combination click. "It was a new chemistry that kicked the show into another plateau," he says. "It added to the strengths that were here."

Rose, 71, has surprised rivals with his ability to adapt to the early hours while still doing his nightly talk show on public television, which tapes in the late afternoon. He showed no signs of on-air weariness the morning after watching an NBA Finals game that ended past midnight. Says O'Donnell: "Charlie has more stamina than Gayle and I do."

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(Full disclosure: is owned by CBS.)

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