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‘CBS This Morning’ Review: Mold Broken, Comfort Zones Stretched, ‘An A for Effort’

Today’s debut of “CBS This Morning” was worth the price of admission just for the pleasure of watching 70-year-old Charlie Rose look into the camera and say: “It’s a huge Twitter topic that Twitter friends have been Tweeting.”

PBS’s cerebral late-night host was probably thinking: #WTF?

As the producers no doubt instantly realized, Rose’s comfort zone does not extend seamlessly to pop-culture stories like Beyonce and Jay-Z’s new baby. Still, he gets an A for effort, and so does the show.

Given CBS’s unbroken record of failure dating back to the launch of its first morning broadcast in 1954, executive producer Chris Licht made good on his promise to break the mold. There was no goofy weatherguy, no raucous fans outside the studio and, most important, no phony chit-chat among anchors.

In fact, unlike Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s hit ‘Morning Joe,’ (Licht’s previous credit), Rose and Gayle King rarely appeared together on set. He fronted the hard news-driven 7 a.m. hour, with the affable King on the lighter stuff from 8 to 9. Erica Hill, lone holdover from CBS’s ‘Early Show,’ crossed over both hours.

Instead of the traditional couch, they sat around a round glass table – perhaps an homage to Rose’s wood model on PBS. The glass-walled Green Room, which does have a couch, is also on set, which may well turn out to be a short-lived experiment.

There were several live shots of rocker Melissa Etheridge and Julianna Margulies, star of CBS’s ‘The Good Wife,’ chatting on said couch. They may or may not have been noshing on bagels. Don’t be surprised if this novelty wears off quickly. Many celebs, particularly those outside the CBS family, are not eager to be seen behind the curtain.

In terms of content, ‘This Morning” began with ‘Eye Opener,’ a slick, 90-second roundup of the previous 24 hours’ news that included clips from Fox News, the BBC, NBC Sports and ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Cool move.

After that, the first segment was pretty much all politics – Jan Crawford and Bob Schieffer from New Hampshire; Ben Tracy from Tucson, Ariz., on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords attending the one-year memorial of the shooting tragedy; Norah O’Donnell on set for a piece on Jodi Kantor’s controversial new book about the Obamas.

In an unusual twist, O’Donnell did an encore with King at 8:01. By sheer coincidence, Michelle Obama is the scheduled guest on Wednesday.

Biggest disappointment was Rose’s live interview with Republican presidential hopeful
Newt Gingrich at 7:07. It painfully illustrated what viewers already knew — fast-paced, short segments do not play to the newsman’s strengths. With only a few minutes in which to operate, Rose was unable to budge Gingrich from his well-worn talking points.

Moreover, Gingrich was embarrassingly fawning, telling the host his was “a Charlie Rose-style campaign, ideas-driven.” Rose returned the favor by offering his condolences to Gingrich on the death Saturday of Tony Blankley, his former press secretary. He even showed a photo of the pair together.

The 8 a.m. hour was lively, and not unlike that of CBS’s competitors. Best moment: Rose, who joined King for the Margulies interview, asked the actor if she liked “politics and politicians.” She paused, most likely wondering if he had ever actually watched the drama, about a disgraced politician and his wife. Then she said yes.

Fittingly, the broadcast ended with a quick chat with Dick Van Dyke, 86, who in 1955 hosted the CBS morning show. His news anchor was Walter Cronkite. Nice touch.

Bottom line: Despite all the hype to the contrary, CBS is not reinventing morning TV.

But at least they’re trying, and that, in itself, is good news.

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