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CBS This Morning will travel on Monday to Washington to present a special edition of the program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. All three anchors — Gayle King, Charlie Rose and Norah O’Donnell — will make the trip for the broadcast that also will have limited national commercial interruptions and just two sponsors: Target and Toyota.
The museum on the National Mall — which has survived decades of opposition and indifference — has been in the planning stages since 2003 when it was officially authorized by President George W. Bush; former first lady Laura Bush is on the board, as is Oprah Winfrey, who donated $21 million. It is set to open Sept. 24 with a ceremony headlined by President Barack Obama. And CBS This Morning will have interviews with Rep. John Lewis, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Senators Cory Booker and Tim Scott and the museum’s director, Lonnie Bunch, among others. Unfortunately, King’s good friend Winfrey is shooting a movie and is unavailable.
The show will offer a look at exhibits and artifacts in the museum from the history of the Middle Passage of slavery to Emmett Till’s casket and Chuck Berry’s car. An exhibit about Thomas Jefferson features a statue of the nation’s revered second president in front of a wall etched with the names of 612 people he owned. An exhibit examining the lives of slaves includes a bale of cotton.
“I’ve never thought of a bale of cotton before,” says King. “But think about how much cotton one person has to pick to fill a bale. Certainly, as a person of color, there’s no denying how personal this feels to me. The museum takes you on a journey. It’s an emotional journey. It’s a historical journey. But I don’t want anybody to think, ‘Oh, it’s a museum for black people.’ It’s a museum for Americans because this is part of our history.”
The broadcast has been in the works for several weeks. And it is the first time the CBS morning show has been presented with limited commercial interruptions, though the local commercial load will not be affected. Target will not air traditional 30-second spots. Rather, the retailer will sponsor vignettes that look at exhibits inside the museum. “It will be very noticeable to the viewer that this is a program with a very reduced commercial load,” explains Jo Ann Ross, president, sales, CBS Television Network.
It’s the kind of storytelling that CBS News executives hope will continue to distinguish CBS This Morning from the competition at a time when the morning-show race is tightening. Though it still trails ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today, CBS This Morning is the most successful iteration of the network’s morning show in decades. Year-to-date, the broadcast is up 7 percent in total viewers (to 3.6 million) and 13 percent in the key 25-54 demographic. Meanwhile, with GMA down 19 percent in the demo, the Today show this year has regained the lead over ABC.
Ryan Kadro, a veteran of CBS This Morning who took over as executive producer in April following Chris Licht’s move to The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, is bullish on the show’s odds of climbing out of third place.
“We are so restless to get out of third and we’re so close now relative to where we’ve been competitively for the last 30 years,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I want it to happen now. We beat the Today show in the 8:30 half-hour a while ago. We’re 300,000 viewers some days away from GMA in the demo. It’s significant, obviously. But it’s not unreasonable when we’re making 20 percent year-over-year gains in that demo.”
Kadro does not expect the African American museum broadcast to be a ratings bonanza. But he notes that the initiative is part of the “slow and steady approach” that has earned the program respect in the industry and more viewers.
“There’s no big attention-grabbing thing. It’s just do the show that we do every day,” he says. “And it’s like with the Sept. 12 broadcast, hopefully we attract some sampling and some eyeballs. And the thing with us is, I think, when people sample the show they say, ‘OK, I get it, I see what they’re doing.’ When they sample the other shows, ‘They say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember why I hate this show.'”
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