NEW YORK — Want to find a mate? Have a few laughs? Call in your opinion? Get the latest on pop music, movies, TV and sports? Well, how about getting to a studio here at dawn to see a live TV show airing at 7:30 a.m.?
All this will be part of CBS' new "The Morning Show." Its format, co-hosts and two supporting players were presented at a press conference here Tuesday where executive producer Bob Shanks informed reporters:
"We are not parading as a hard-news program."
The new 7:30 a.m.-9 a.m. weekday entertainment program, preceded by a new, 90-minute hard-news version of the "CBS Morning News," will start battling NBC's top-rated "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America" on Jan. 12.
It will be co-hosted by actress Mariette Hartley and former New York news anchorman Rolland Smith, with Mark McEwen, a disc jockey and comedian, as its weatherman and comedian Bob Saget as the co-hosts' "sidekick."
All attended Tuesday's press powwow, although most questions were directed at Shanks, hired last August by then-CBS Broadcast Group executive Van Gordon Sauter to develop a new morning show.
The result represents CBS' latest effort to compete in the dawn ratings wars with two separate programs--the first produced by CBS News, the second by the entertainment division--after years of changing faces, modifying formats and persistent ratings failure with the "CBS Morning News."
"We're not out to steal (audiences) from 'Today' or 'Good Morning America,' but to develop our own audience," Shanks said. He explained that a lot of that hoped-for audience consists of young people and radio listeners who don't usually watch television in the morning.
His creation emphasizes weather--each half-hour segment begins with a weather report--as well as offering celebrity interviews, finance and health information, plus various features, including one on modern "life styles" and a consumer segment called "Sensible Shopper."
It will offer essays by Texas-born writer Roy Blount Jr., pop music reports by former Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer Bobby Columby and celebrity news from veteran Hollywood Reporter correspondent Robert Osborne.
It also will have what Shanks called "newsmaker" interviews, as well as a weekly segment on outstanding teachers in the United States. But it won't have much national news.
Only two minutes of that is scheduled for the first half hour, the same amount in the second half hour and, according to Shanks, none at all in the third and concluding segment.
Shanks, who helped develop ABC's "Good Morning America" and contributed to its early years of success, said the chief difference between his new effort and its network rivals is that it won't resemble them.
For starters, it will be the only one airing "video personal ads"--free taped recordings of men and women who, he jokingly said, "are having difficulty finding love or a mate or a match."
The segment also will include follow-up reports on how various people looking for pals by video fared in their electronic quest.
"There will be a careful screening process," he replied when asked who will be responsible if a video suitor is matched up with an advertiser, then proves to be a "kook" and murders the supplicant.
The program also will be the only network morning show with a live studio audience and two daily comedy segments, the first one called "The Comedy Club" and featuring taped stand-up routines of young comics.
However, it won't be the only one offering a 900 telephone number to enable viewers to vote for or against a specific issue raised in the show. "Good Morning America" has done that sporadically for about a year.
(On the same day as the CBS press conference, the ABC program held a yes-or-no call-in poll on whether government employees should get a pay raise. The results were to be announced on the show today a spokesman said.)
Shanks said that CBS executives had set no target date for his show to reach a desired ratings point, nor had they given him a specified period of time in which it either had to be making headway or face cancellation.
"I feel a very solid sense of commitment" to the show by CBS officials, he added. "Is that a year? Ten years? Twelve years? Who knows? But I feel it's long enough to get the job done."
Jack Reilly, the former "Entertainment Tonight" producer who this month took charge of "Good Morning America," was reported to be out of town, and was unavailable for comment on his new morning competitor.
But NBC executive producer Steve Friedman, whose "Today Show" was temporarily co-hosted by Mariette Hartley for three weeks in 1980, had a few thoughts about CBS' new venture, even though he noted that it is hard for one to comment on a show one has yet to see.
"From what I've heard about, it seems to be more of an afternoon show than a morning show," he said of the CBS rival. He didn't seem concerned about it, though.
"I sleep very well at night," Friedman said. "And I don't think what emerges with Mariette and Rolland is going to disturb that slumber."