Bring back Phyllis George.
CBS needs something drastic if Monday and Tuesday are true inklings of "The Morning Program," its new 7:30-9 a.m. "entertainment and information" series that throws Mariette Hartley and the Seven Dwarfs at NBC's "Today" show and ABC's "Good Morning America."
Take \o7 this\f7 , Bryant and Jane. You have the feeling they're happy to.
Ever had someone you couldn't get off the phone? Wouldn't shut up? Well, that was two days' worth of the usually endearing Hartley, who was more than merely effervescent. She was the spray that drenched.
Hartley's co-host is the rumored, barely discernible Rolland Smith, a former New York anchorman who she must repeatedly prod to participate in interviews.
Plus there's long, thin comic Bob Saget and his Daily Guest Comic. There's jovial, Willard Scott-size weatherman Mark McEwen and his Sense of Humor: "Jackson, Wyo., is not named after the Jackson Five."
Then came Dr. Robert Arnot, Hollywood's very own Robert Osborne, critic George Kirgo, a video dating service, Hartley's dog Daisy and a live, laughing studio audience that would laugh at World War III.
Hey, you crazy goofs Mariette, Rolland, Mark, three Bobs, George, video daters and Daisy. Go on, you're outta here.
Nowhere is it written in the scriptures: "Let There Be TV Lookalikes in the Morning." So it's all right that CBS--after trying such gimmicks as Phyllis George to swell the perennial third-place ratings of "The CBS Morning News"--finally opted for Something Else.
Unfortunately, Something Else turned out to be This.
It's only a preliminary report, the first two of presumably many days in the life of a series. But is this amazing or what? Executive producer Bob Shanks, one of TV's brighter minds, has inexplicably drawn the worst elements from "Today" and "Good Morning America" and repackaged them as "The Morning Program." He's trimmed the meat and retained the fat, then girdled the roly-poly leftovers into 90 minutes of thick belly.
The problem is not that "The Morning Program" is too different. The problem is that it's not different enough. Once you've seen Willard Scott in drag as Carmen Miranda and Boy George on "Today," everything else pales.
On "The Morning Program," it's largely the same old story of cooking, fashion, medical and "how to . . . " segments wrapped around interviews that are too fleeting to convey anything but babble.
Here's a program that has a chance to take a bold step, not by being more serious, but by being better at being light. On Tuesday, though, comic Roseanne Barr was just starting to roll in her interview with Smith and Hartley when Hartley broke in: "We have to stop."
Why? Because "The Morning Program," like nearly all of TV, has a stopwatch for a soul and is predicated on the belief that viewers have the attention spans of infants.
And how about this for being different?
Hartley opened Monday with a chat with Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly, the stars of "Cagney & Lacey." A half-hour later, they were talking to David Hartman on "Good Morning America." On Tuesday, Osborne gave viewers the latest scoop on the career of Bruce Willis--the day after "Good Morning America" viewers heard about Willis' career from Willis himself.
Yes, "The Morning Program" viewers got Osborne's interview with Sophia Loren, but it was excruciatingly arid. They also got interviews with CBS stars Gless and Daly, and CBS sportscasters Pat Summerall and John Madden. They got Smith and Hartley with Martin Sheen, who just happened to be starring in "My Dissident Mom" tonight on CBS. And Michelle Phillips of "Knots Landing" on CBS was advertised for this morning.
For a network morning show, business as usual.
Here is a program, also, that has a bad case of the sweets. It's a show where the star's dog roams the set and upstages everyone else. So by the end of Tuesday's episode, viewers had met Daisy the dog and one of McEwen's high school teachers and had seen home movies of Saget's wedding. Would today bring Smith's dentist?
If anything revealed the program's chaos, though, it was Kirgo delivering an amusing rap of Shirley MacLaine's ABC miniseries "Out on a Limb," then Osborne later trashing Kirgo's review.
Smith, meanwhile, is Mr. Stick in the Mud, facing each interview as if facing the gas chamber. At one point, Tuesday, Hartley told Roseanne Barr that Smith had a question for her. "I do?" he gulped.
It seems a given that CBS is banking heaviest on Hartley, a likable actress, who is simply trying too hard to be just plain folks. So far, she's been \o7 overwhelming. \f7 An avowed feminist, moreover, she's locked into a sexist role as the show's dizzy female in sharp contrast to her co-host's stiff sober manner.
Smith noted at the end of Monday's show that Daisy sheds. If so, it was the only evidence that "The Morning Program" had existed, 90 minutes better spent living life than experiencing it via TV.
Shanks knows the territory. In his book "The Primal Screen," he writes of TV viewing as "a primal human need.
"We ape its values, attitudes, language and dress. Its haste. The shallows. We covet its merchandise, needed or not. We surrender outdoors, alternate activity indoors, action and time. We give it our senses. Our brains. Goodness and evil, sublime and mundane wash us amain and we are blurred in our retention of the differences. There will never be a bald-headed President again. Television is a kind of destiny now. Like climate or topography or the color of your skin. We live secondhand."
And so it is with "The Morning Show."
A memo to CBS: Pitch Hartley, Smith and the rest. Keep the dog.