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'Morning' Dawns With Molinari

Television review: The former congresswoman has a nervous start but then settles into the second hour of 'CBS News Saturday Morning' with aplomb.


NEW YORK — Reading weather reports, bouncing a therapy ball and giving a thumbs-up to Michael Douglas--you're a long way from Congress, Susan Molinari.

The former Republican lawmaker from New York debuted as co-host of the new "CBS News Saturday Morning" program, accepting a "Broadcaster's Survival Guide" book from colleague Russ Mitchell at the end.

"Where were you two hours ago?" Molinari retorted.

Molinari's abrupt career change became a matter of intense debate in political and media circles when it was announced last spring. Commentators wondered if CBS News wasn't compromising itself by putting the keynote speaker at last year's GOP National Convention in a prominent news role.

The point seemed largely moot on the first show.

Asked by Mitchell what her political experience taught her to expect in the Jesse Helms-William Weld showdown over the Mexican ambassadorship, Molinari said to stay tuned, that the controversy will likely drag on.

And after a story about Army men who believe fitness standards are too lax for women, Molinari said that if the standards were made tougher, women should also be allowed to serve in artillery and infantry units.

Politics hardly mattered most of the time. Molinari was left with the standard morning show duties--sampling a fruit smoothie whipped up by a health expert and a chicken dish prepared by a chef.

Her nerves showed at the outset. Molinari visibly tried to calm herself with a few deep breaths, and a joke fell flat when the two hosts talked about an upcoming segment about when to leave a relationship that was coming to an end.

"Hey, I just got here," she blurted. At times she appeared to be rushing herself, and during an interview with a teenage credit card abuser, she tried to direct instead of letting the subject tell her story.

"There are still a lot of butterflies in the stomach," Molinari said in an interview after the show. "The first show is such a huge hurdle psychologically. It's going to get easier from here."

By her second hour, Molinari seemed to be more comfortable. She reacted with aplomb when thrown a therapy ball--a device to help during abdominal exercises--during a health segment.

News segments on the Princess Diana accident investigation and the sale of Elton John's tribute version of "Candle in the Wind" forced producers to scrap a prepared segment in which Molinari and Mitchell traveled to each other's hometown.

The two hosts found time for an awkward turn as Siskel and Ebert, reviewing Douglas' new movie, "The Game." Both said they liked it, although the segment shed little light on what the movie was about.

"Did I mention he was attractive?" she asked.

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