Jane Pauley Readies for ‘Sunday Morning’ Run on CBS

Brian Steinberg

Before Jane Pauley even considers finding her own voice on CBS’ venerable “Sunday Morning,” she wants to make certain the show’s own tones remain intact.

“I have enough experience in television with brand-name programs to know that if there’s anything viewers don’t want too much of, it’s overt change, particularly in the morning,” she said in an interview this week. “They kind of have an expectation that the same is fine.”

And yet, when viewers tune into “CBS Sunday Morning” this weekend, they won’t be served the same thing. For the first time in decades, a new anchor will be at the helm of the Sunday-breakfast institution. Pauley will greet viewers this Sunday, not Charles Osgood as has been the norm, and the shift is a major one: Jane Pauley will be just the third anchor since “Sunday Morning” launched in January of 1979.

Longtime watchers will get what they regularly tune in for, said Pauley. There will still be unique features, like the one Mo Rocca recently delivered on vexillology, the study of flags. Pauley this Sunday will present an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and even get a peek inside her freezer. And there will be some hints of her predecessor. “I have had difficulty trying to escape the unique rhythm of his read. He’s just very natural,” she said of Osgood’s signature style. “That’s what viewers, myself included, associate with ‘Sunday Morning’ – a certain cadence, and interpretation, of words.”

Maintaining that aspect of the show, she said, “is almost unavoidable.” “Sunday Morning” will certainly evolve during her tenure as stories and audience demand, but “I think I’ll be given a pass for a brief period of time, and there will be an expectation that maybe I find my own” style.

Rand Morrison, the show’s executive producer, feels “Sunday Morning” should shift along with the subjects it covers and new ways of telling stories, but doesn’t think a new anchor requires a new modus operandi.  “As Jane settles in to her new life, we’ll adjust the mix of stories to speak to things that play to her strengths or are just of interest to her,” he said. He did express an interest in covering science and technology, but remained adamant that “Sunday Morning” would maintain its eclecticism. A story about prostitution is in the production pipeline, he said, and a profile of Celine Dion may air this weekend.

Pauley takes the “Sunday” helm as a new rivalry looms. NBC earlier this year devised a new Sunday edition of “Today,” hosted by Willie Geist, who gets to offer his viewpoint on some of the news of the day and explore longer-term reportage. Ironically, Geist’s father, Bill, has been a long-time “Sunday Morning” correspondent for CBS. “It’s kind of a friendly competition, from where we sit,”said Pauley, whose ties to NBC go back to 1975, when she joined its Chicago station, WMAQ.

CBS has reason to consider any change to “Sunday Morning” carefully. Advertisers including Merck, Trivago.com and Boehringer Ingelheim spent approximately $50.3 million on the program last year, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending. In the first six months of 2016, advertisers have already committed about $32.5 million to the show – slightly more than they did in the year-earlier period.

What’s more, “Sunday Morning” provides a lead-in to “Face The Nation,” the public-affairs program that is the network news unit’s entry in the ongoing TV-news battle to win the attention of senior government officials and influencers. It has a relatively new host at its helm as well: John Dickerson, who has been in place there for more than a year after succeeding Bob Schieffer in June of 2015.

Pauley is not an unfamiliar presence.  She jumped quickly to NBC’s “Today” morning show from her Chicago perch, and then, after winning viewer sympathy when the network moved to replace her with Deborah Norville, transitioned into a decade-plus-long stint on “Dateline.” Indeed, Pauley has appeared in viewers’ living rooms as long as Osgood.

Her arrival at “Sunday Morning” is the result of happenstance. She had been contributing segments to NBC’s “Today” about transitions in middle-age, and “Sunday Morning” did a report on it. Social-media reaction was positive, and she was invited to join the program as a contributor.

She says she would not be eager to adopt the pace currently en vogue in modern weekday morning programs. “It’s punishing,” she says of today’s A.M. news productions. “It’s sixty-five miles an hour in heavy traffic. In my era, it was pretty casual.”

Her new morning show lets viewers take time to smell their coffee, rather than gulping it down. “Each segment has the potential to be seven to nine minutes, which is practically a documentary in broadcasting today,” she notes. “There is the luxury of taking time and spending time on topics or with individuals that you aren’t going to see elsewhere.”

Except Pauley herself, of course. Given the average tenure of a host on “Sunday Morning,” viewers are likely to see her quite regularly.

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