Tony Dokoupil Is Getting the Hang of Morning Television

Tony Dokoupil - CBS Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of CBS

CBS hopes that its new addition to 'This Morning' will provide long-term stability to one of its flagship shows. "Sometimes I wonder who's captured my husband and turned him into a happy morning person," says MSNBC anchor Katy Tur.

On Monday, May 20, the flagship morning show CBS This Morning debuted a trio of hosts. Gayle King is the mainstay and the star; Anthony Mason is the veteran; and Tony Dokoupil, 38, is the new kid.

The show's cast has been in flux since CBS fired Charlie Rose in November 2017. John Dickerson replaced him before moving on to 60 Minutes. Bianna Golodryga also had a stint at the desk.

Now the network is looking for consistency from a key franchise that generated an estimated $88,450,000 in advertising revenue in the first six months of 2019, according to Kantar Media.

The network hopes that Dokoupil, who previously served as a CBS Sunday Morning contributor and a daily reporter for the weekday morning show, will gel with his co-hosts and provide a long-term solution in the time slot.

"He seems to really be enjoying himself," says Dokoupil's wife, MSNBC anchor Katy Tur, who met him at the cable news network. "Sometimes I wonder who's captured my husband and turned him into a happy morning person. I never saw him as a happy morning person until I watched the show, and now I wonder what I was missing before."

Tur, who rose to fame for her coverage of Donald Trump's campaign before landing the 2 p.m. hour at MSNBC, knows how challenging morning television is.

"I think it's one of the most difficult jobs, because it's a balancing act," she says. "You not only have to have credibility and authority, but you have to be someone people want to open their eyes to. It's a really hard balance, and I think he's finding it."

On a recent Wednesday morning, at a tea shop in midtown Manhattan, Dokoupil talked with The Hollywood Reporter about acclimating to the daily grind and becoming more recognizable to CBS viewers.

"It used to be that Katy and I would walk down the street, and nine out of 10 times, people would be like, 'Oh, hey,' and they'd come up to her," he says. "And one out of 10 times, it would be a CBS Sunday Morning superfan. And I would always love that because sometimes the person would approach us and Katy would put on her I'm-going-to-meet-a-viewer face, and the person would blow by her and be like, 'I loved your piece on Sunday morning,' and I'd be like, 'Yes!' But now it's shifted to morning television people, and a much higher number of people. And it's a beautiful thing, because you realize that there are people on the other side of the lens and they are tuning in in the morning and relying on you to bring them some order to a chaotic world at the moment."

The cerebral Dokoupil, who once pursued a doctoral degree in media studies, attempts to chart his industry's moment in time. "I think at a certain point in recent news history, there was an overcorrection toward taking the feeling and the humanity out of the news read," he says. "With Gayle sitting at the center of that table, we have the freedom and the license to be ourselves on television. And so, we cover the news, we cover it well and seriously, but it doesn't mean that we have to be dour or stiff. Keeping it conversational to me is a top priority."

But morning television is still a ratings game, and the new cast of the King-Mason-Dokoupil team hasn't really moved the needle.

CBS This Morning consistently trails both ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today show in total viewers and the key demo — for the first three weeks of this month, the show brought in an average 2.8 million total viewers, below ABC's 3.8 million and NBC's 3.6 million.

A CBS News spokesperson said the network is pleased with the show's "momentum" and said the show has cut the gap with the competition in key demographics and viewers.

"Tony is a storyteller, a writer, a facile journalist whose curiosity is at the core of who he is," says CBS News chief Susan Zirinsky. "That's what makes Tony so right as part of the ensemble for CBS This Morning. Tony takes you on a journey, allowing the viewer to meet someone — understanding the story so much more deeply because you see it through the eyes of those impacted."

No matter the size, Dokoupil is thankful for the broadcast show's audience, which he compares favorably to a more plugged-in, die-hard cable news audience: "It's more diverse, it's broader, and you may be the only political news that that person gets in the whole day."

He also wants viewers to know that he's experienced hardship in his life. He gets fired up when talking about a new consumer-focused segment called "The Rising Cost" that searches for the human causes of high prices, an issue that resonates with him.

"I've been in debt," Dokoupil says. "I've felt what it's like to not have enough money at the end of the month. I haven't talked about it on the show, but that's the reality. I've been deep in credit card debt. I've been deep in student loan debt. And there's nothing more painful than not having enough to make ends meet."

Dokoupil says he will share his personal journey with viewers as it makes sense, to help resonate with an audience that is new to him but becoming more familiar by the day.

Amid the daily challenge of creating a compelling block of morning television five days a week, Tur says she wants her husband to keep perspective and to remember how big of an opportunity CBS has given him. She adds, "Sometimes I take him by the shoulders and say, 'This is a big deal.'"