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GUEST BLOG #31: Tom Brinkmoeller on 'Sunday Morning' delights
July 9, 2009  | By Tom Brinkmoeller  | 1 comment
[Bianculli here: One of the best things about TV WORTH WATCHING, if I do say so myself (and I do), is that its writers are encouraged to follow their passions. Today, contributing columnist Tom Brinkmoeller's passion takes him to an old TV friend: a show that's been around since the Carter administration, but remains one of broadcast TV's most watchable, least hyper nonfiction newsmagazines...


'Sunday Morning' Stays at Top Form by Staying the Same

A little more than 30 years ago, as it was getting ready to debut CBS' Sunday Morning, the network mailed out a promotional piece that was perceived as a challenge by many who received it. It was a drawing of a newspaper floating out of a TV screen.

"CBS News Sunday Morning," read the copy. "The Sunday Paper that Comes in a Tube!"

Sent to newspapers across the country, it seemed like a red cape waved in front of people so bullish at the time on print news. I know that because the people at my paper, who patiently smiled at the CBS claim, assigned me the story of finding the reactions of other news folk.

"Like other TV news programs, they'll be hard-pressed to deal effectively with other than visual news," said a news executive at one paper.

"I'm glad that TV's adding to its news coverage," said the managing editor of another paper. "God knows they need it. But I feel they could run news all day and still not equal the kind of content we offer."

"The beautiful thing about a Sunday newspaper," said another of these unfazed editors, "is that you can pick it up and read it any time during the week . . . That's something they can't easily do with a newscast."

Since that day in 1979, time-shifting of programming through home VCRs and DVRs has arrived, and it, like the Internet, has scrambled the news assessments of three decades ago. Newspapers are curled into a corner, as afraid and bewildered as the bully who's met his match. Latest figures from the group that audits newspaper circulation numbers show subscribers for Sunday papers dropped 4.8 percent between October 2008 and March 2009. Arrogance is a tricky thing.

Meanwhile, Sunday Morning is having its "best season in several years" -- so says the program's executive producer for the last 10 years, Rand Morrison. "We have 5 million loyal . . . viewers each week," in what Nielsen reports are 3.7 million homes.


But it's more than changes in the media landscape that have made Sunday Morning so successful for so long. A look at the many failed newsmagazine attempts from NBC over that span, as well as the sorry state of the surviving Dateline, proves network presence doesn't translate to lifetime respectability.

CBS' Sunday Morning started as a class act and has only improved since. Robert (Shad) Northshield, a creator of the show and its first executive producer, said back then that CBS had dedicated "a real commitment" and a "relatively high budget" to Sunday Morning. Morrison says the network's support hasn't changed and the trendiness that marks other news shows hasn't been forced on his.

"We're very lucky to have enlightened bosses who understand that, for our audience, this works. I have never had a conversation with a boss to start or stop a story."

No one has pushed to have studio windows looking out on the street. There are no live performances by pop groups. No cooking or decorating demonstrations. Host Charles Osgood doesn't ask his viewers to guess where in the world he's traveled to this week. (Morrison says, "We've been really fortunate to have had two anchors throughout the show's history, Charles Osgood and before him Charles Kuralt, who our viewers have considered to be smart and loved broadcasters.")

Instead, viewers get to see deep, truly interesting interviews with people who don't have a movie, album or book to peddle. Recent stories about Sheryl Crow, Dennis Hopper, Norman Lear, Lynda Carter, Lionel Richie and Marianne Faithfull are the kinds you don't see on Today, Good Morning America or the other regular stops on the hype circuit.

new york shorts.jpg

Features one recent week included two other examples of what Morrison says are stories "that take [viewers] someplace they never thought they'd be going" -- a 2-year-old pool-playing phenomenon known as New York Shorts (watch it here), and the love-to-hate process behind buying a parrot and then finding out they're more work than buyers ever imagined. The program's consistently strong reporting, producing and editing guarantee the most engrossing 90 minutes of news produced anywhere.

Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent on PBS' equally respected NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, mirrors the respect Sunday Morning carries among fellow professionals:

"They found a formula that defines who they are and what they offer uniquely, and they've stuck with it. Despite dramatic changes in the news media, and pressures to try something different and 'hip,' they haven't changed their mission or their approach in any fundamental way in all the years they've been on the air. Viewers know what they're getting when they turn to CBS' Sunday Morning -- in-depth looks at some of the most interesting and under-reported stories of the day. Plus, they've kept a crew of terrifically talented correspondents and producers, who deliver week in and week out."

Hear much praise like that for newspapers lately?

[In most markets, Sunday Morning airs at 9 a.m. ET, but check your local listings.]



Tom Brinkmoeller, who may
have smirked with the best
of them back when CBS'
Sunday Morning premiered,
has only rarely missed a
Sunday broadcast for years.


Carina said:

I DVR every episode of Sunday Morning. It's one show that I can count on to be something I can watch with the whole family in the room. I love the format, the knowing humor, and the respect of us as an audience. I hope they're around for another 30 years.

Comment posted on July 9, 2009 4:23 AM

Eileen said:

I applaud you for recognizing "Sunday Morning", surely one of the finest shows on tv. It actually makes you want to get up on Sunday. Their stories are so quaint, heartwarming, amusing, they defy description.

One of my favorites this past winter was a "catch-up" with Cheetah. Yes, that Cheetah. Well, he's living the good life in, I believe, Palm Springs. We should all age so well!!

I saw the parrot piece, and it was intriguing. A few weeks back they did a piece on a dog who had befriended an elephant at a sanctury. These are real human interest pieces, and ones you'll never see anywhere else.

I particularly like their celebrity interviews as they are truly in-depth and not the puff pieces you normally get. Lynda Carter, Dennis Hopper, Marianne Faithful, the list just goes on & on.

It's just great to have a critic reaffirm what I've always felt about this show. I put it on my "Top Ten" list on David's blog at the beginning of the year. It's as good, if not better, than anything in prime time. Charles Osgood is just an American treasure, and Bill Geist is a joy.

Comment posted on July 9, 2009 9:20 AM

Joe Henderson said:

I agree that CBS Sunday Morning continues to be a top flight show. For many years it was appointment television ... a good, almost 'happy news' way to ease into Sunday.

Personally, I enjoy Charles Osgood, but he will never best the avuncular Mr. Kuralt. Charles Kuralt's pacing, enjoyment of the various subjects shown, and his supporting cast were aces. And his books on Americana continue to bring enjoyment.

I do see and enjoy the show every month or so now, but I feel that I'm being sold to ... be it the latest book author, comeback musician, or must-see NYC art show, it just feels, well, like the show's working too hard to provide us who are no longer in our 20's and 30's a way to feel 'in the know.' Just a feeling, but it is what it is.

Guess I have the "where have you gone Roger Welsch and where are you going Bill Geist Blues."

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Comment posted on July 9, 2009 11:05 AM

Neil said:

It is a great program, and I used to watch it religiously back when I still lived in New York. But out here in the Bay Area, the local CBS station airs the live feed, which means 6:00 to 7:30 am local time. So it's obvious how highly the CBS local station management (KPIX being an O&O) regards Sunday Morning. And I'm not willing to drag my tush out of bed at 6am on a Sunday for any TV show.

On those rare occasions I've remembered to preset the DVD recorder, I've noticed another thing to appreciate about Sunday Morning. Many of their commercial clusters are still 2 minutes or less, not the interminable 3 or 4 minute marathons that we're subjected to during other programs, even the evening news these days. This too shows an old-school respect for their audience.

Comment posted on July 9, 2009 12:25 PM

Davis Didjeridu said:

While I agree with most of your assessment, I disagree that they only interview "people who don't have a movie, album or book to peddle." I usually only watch it once a month, when there is someone interesting to me on, and that is usually when they are peddling something. For example, last month Dave Matthews Band had a profile (and I am a fan) but the only reason they were on was because they have a new album out. I believe Edie Falco also had a profile, coinciding with the premiere of Nurse Jackie. Same thing happened a few months ago when Bruce Springsteen had a new album out (and a Super Bowl appearance).
I'm glad Sunday Morning is still on and strong, but I'm under no illusions. Some, if not most of their pop culture profiles are driven by publicists trying to peddle their clients' new wares.

Comment posted on July 9, 2009 4:32 PM

Mark N said:

I originally stumbled onto and into this program early in the morning (back when 9 am WAS early). And there was Charles Kuralt...kindly, intelligent and enthralling as a talker. I loved his vocal cadence. And his pieces were always beyond entertaining. I always seemed to learn new things on Sunday mornings. I became an addict and heve spent well over a thousand of those mornings with Charles and now Charlie(Nice poet!). And I treasure the varied pleasures that I have received. Thanks for headlining this show in a commentary...maybe some will see it that never have and will be the better for it as I am.

Comment posted on July 10, 2009 5:21 PM

Noelle said:

I am one of those loyal viewers of Sunday Morning. I love the stories, the opinion pieces, the interviews. I used to rush home after spinning class to watch. Now I set the Tivo each week. I feel the show respects me and my intelligence. They don't talk down to me, they give me things to think about and debate. Its a show I can watch with my teenager. I'm glad the show is doing well and people are watching. I hope it stays around for a long time to come.

Comment posted on July 11, 2009 10:54 AM

Ian said:

Reading and thinking about "Sunday Morning" makes me realize how much I miss John Leonard. I remember watching him in my early teenage years, and even though I didn't always understand what he was saying, God I loved how he said it.

Comment posted on July 13, 2009 11:29 AM
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Susan Ragan
I look forward to Sunday mornings just to see news that isn't depressing and to hear Charles Osgood's voice. He is like Vin Scully. Some anchors are so compelling you tune in just to hear their voices. He is an institution in television.
Mar 11, 2016   |  Reply
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