Gayle King on New 'CBS This Morning': "We Want to Knock It Out of the Park"

CBS This Morning Still - Publicity - H 2019
Michele Crowe/CBS

King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil all stress that this is not a gut reinvention, just a needed remodel.

New anchors, new graphics and new segments. The new CBS This Morning launched Monday with a few new bells and whistles, including a segment called "The Blink" at 7:30 a.m., which is a mini-version of the Eyeopener, the video montage recap of the top stories that opens the show every morning. There is also a higher story count; there were 20 in the 7-8 a.m. block. The program will have a dedicated team of correspondents including David Begnaud, Jericka Duncan, Anna Werner and Vladimir Duthiers.

And Gayle King is, of course, flanked by two new co-anchors, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil. But all three anchors stress that this is not a gut reinvention, just a needed remodel.

“Our bones are good,” said King, 64, seated at the anchor desk with her co-anchors.

Added Mason: “A show is a living, breathing moving thing that you are always trying to make better. But the show has a foundation and an existing soul.”

CBS News president Susan Zirinsky announced sweeping anchor changes on May 6, which also included the appointment of former CBS This Morning co-host Norah O'Donnell to anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News and in the fall relocating that show to Washington, D.C., a first in its 71-year history. It has all come in the aftermath of a rocky few years at CBS News marked by numerous misconduct claims and multiple investigations. And Zirinsky — a four-decade veteran of CBS News — has worked to restore morale amid unprecedented scrutiny.

“Susan gave me some good advice when we were going through all of this toil and trouble,” continued King. “I said, ‘Oh, God, it’s so hard, we’re starting over again, we’re starting from scratch.’ She said, ‘Don’t say that. We’re not starting from scratch. We have already built a very successful show.’ And it’s true.”

King and Mason, 62, have an established rapport; Mason has been at CBS News for more than three decades and has filled in on CBS This Morning many times. He most recently anchored the Saturday iteration of the show.

“I always knew when Anthony was here, I didn’t have to worry,” said King.

Dokopuil, 38 — who in April welcomed a baby boy, Teddy, with wife Katy Tur of NBC News — joined CBS News in 2016. He has never hosted a daily program. Dokopuil, King and Mason previously only anchored together once, earlier this year. “I had to remind myself: This is not a pinch hit. I have to come back tomorrow,” DoKoupil said Monday morning.

Zirinsky and CBS This Morning executive producer Diana Miller have remade the show around King, who has notched a series of news-making interviews, including an explosive sit-down with R. Kelly. King did explore opportunities elsewhere, fielding interest from ABC and CNN, but she recently finalized a new deal worth $11 million annually. “My heart is really rooted here at CBS,” said King. “And I want to see this through.”

Of course, King and her colleagues have their work cut out for them. Network news divisions have largely not experienced the "Trump bump" that has lifted viewership for many opinion programs on cable news. And CBS has been an also-ran in the morning for decades: CBS This Morning is averaging 3.2 million viewers, compared to 4.2 million for ABC’s Good Morning America and 4.1 million for NBC’s Today. But on this morning, the set crackled with energy. Many of the producers came to the set for the final minutes of the show, and Zirinsky arrived from the control room during the last half hour. When the director called a wrap, there was a huge round of applause.

“We all want this to work,” said King. “And you can really feel the camaraderie. You want to knock it out of the park and you hope it will be well received. You know you work your ass off and you just hope people like it. We’re well aware we’re in third place. We get that. But we’re working really hard not to be in third place.”