‘CBS This Morning’ brings audience on set in A.M. experiment

Stay out of Gayle King’s way on Wednesday morning.

As the clock approaches 8 a.m. tomorrow,  King and her “CBS This Morning” co-hosts, Anthony Mason and Tony Doukopil, will have to whisk themselves from their home studio to another one at the multi-tiered New York broadcast facility that hosts their program. They will have to climb several floors and scamper down long hallways. Upon arrival, they will find something that has not been a staple of their morning broadcast: a live, in-studio crowd. Guests including Karamo Brown, Cynthia Germanotta and Jane Pauley will be on hand to discuss mental health awareness with a hand-picked audience that will include people who have had their own dealings with mental health challenges.

“It will be a bit of a run for our anchors, but we have some TV tricks up our sleeves to make sure they have time to get there,” says Diana Miller, the A.M. program’s executive producer, in an interview. “We have mapped out a path multiple times. We know which elevators to hold.”

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Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey throughout their friendship
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Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey throughout their friendship
(L-R) Television talk show host Oprah Winfrey and magazine editor Gayle King at launch party for Winfrey's O magazine. (Photo by Dave Allocca/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
(L-R) Magazine editor Gayle King and television personality Oprah Winfrey. (Photo by Dave Allocca/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King at the Cipriani's in New York City, New York (Photo by Carmen Valdes/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - MAY 25: (L-R) Steadman Graham, Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King attend 21st Annual Daytime Emmy Awards on May 25, 1994 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: Talk show host Oprah Winfrey (C), Vogue editor Anna Wintour (L) and Oprah Magazine editor Gayle King attend the Vera Wang Spring/Summer 2003 Collection at the New York Public Library for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week September 20, 2002 in New York City. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey *Exclusive* (Photo by Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic)
Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring Collections 2003 - Vera Wang - Front Row at Bryant Park in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - NOVEMBER 12: Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King attend 46th Annual National Urban League Awards on November 12, 2002 at Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) Dr. Michael Lomax, President of UNCF, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones and Gayle King (Photo by Louis Myrie/WireImage)
Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King attend 'Moving Image Salutes John Travolta' at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on Sunday, November 5, 2004. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for NBC Universal Photo Department)
Malaak Rock, Oprah Winfrey, Erica Reid and Gayle King **Exclusive** ***Exclusive*** (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) Beyonce Knowles, Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for People Magazine)
Beyonce Knowles, Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey during Antonio 'L.A.' Reid's 50th Birthday Party - Inside at Nobu - 57th Street in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage for People Magazine)
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 12: Oprah Winfrey and her best friend Gayle King listens as teachers interview candidates for her school for unprivileged girls on August 12, 2006 in Durban, South Africa. Oprah has invested over $40 million to build a first class high school for a few hundred lucky girls from all over South Africa. She has realized her dream and promise to president Nelson Mandela to build the school, and to uplift the lives if these young girls. (Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)
Jean Chatsky, Gayle King, Bob Greene, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Marianne Williamson, Dr. Robin Smith and Nate Berkus (Photo by Larry Busacca/WireImage for XM Satellite Radio)
Gayle King, Chaz Lamar Shepherd, who plays Harpo and NaTasha Yvette Williams, who plays Sofia (played by Oprah Winfrey in the film) ***EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE*** (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK - MAY 05: Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer and Gayle King attends the Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World Gala at Rose Hall - Jazz at Lincoln Center on May 5, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Time Inc.)
***EXCLUSIVE*** Entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King attend the 'Up In The Air' Premiere held at the Ryerson Theatre during 2009 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2009 in Toronto, Canada. ***Exclusive*** (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
NEW YORK - JUNE 6: ***EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE*** (L-R) Television personality Gayle King, actresses Elizabeth Ashley and Phylicia Rashad, dressed as her character 'Violet Weston', and talk show host Oprah Winfrey pose backstage at the Pulitzer Prize-winning play 'August: Osage County' at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway June 6, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK - MAY 09: Media personalities Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey onstage at the completion of the 'Live Your Best Life Walk' to celebrate O, The Oprah Magazine's 10th Anniversary in Times Square on May 9, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 10: Oprah Winfrey (R) and Gayle King in the audience during the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Mike Nichols held at Sony Pictures Studios on June 10, 2010 in Culver City, California. The AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Mike Nichols will premiere on TV Land on Saturday, June 25 at 9PM ET/PST. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 08: Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey during the 35th Anniversary Celebration for Bishop Thomas Dexter 'T.D.' Jakes, Sr. at the AT&T Performing Arts Center on June 8, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images For The Potter's House)
CHICAGO, IL - MAY 17: (L-R) Gayle King, Oprah Winfrey and Maria Shriver attend Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular at the United Center on May 17, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) (L-R) Gayle King, Audra McDonald as 'Billie Hollday' and Oprah Winfrey pose backstage at 'Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill' on Broadway at The Circle in The Square Theater on May 15, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 22: (L-R) TV personality Gayle King, guest and Oprah Winfrey attend the 45th NAACP Image Awards presented by TV One at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 22, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Television personalities Oprah Winfrey (L) and Gayle King (R) attend the Women's Singles Quarterfinals match between Serena Williams of the United States and Venus Williams of the United States on Day Nine of the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09: Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey attend The Robin Hood Foundation's 2016 Benefit at Jacob Javitz Center on May 9, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
ABC SPECIAL - TAKING THE STAGE: AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC AND STORIES THAT CHANGED AMERICA, a star-studded special commemorating the opening of the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture, taped at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, 9/23/16, will air as a two-hour primetime special on THURSDAY, JANUARY 12 (9:0011:00 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) GAYLE KING, OPRAH WINFREY
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: (L-R) Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, and Gayle King attend the David Geffen Hall Renaming Ceremony & The New York Philharmonic's 2015-16 Opening Gala Concert at Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center on September 24, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: (L-R) TV personality Gayle King, Oprah Winfrey and director Ava DuVernay celebrate The 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards with Moet & Chandon at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14: Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King are seen leaving the 'Ed Sullivan Theater' on May 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS) (L-R) Gayle King, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Oprah Winfrey pose backstage at the hit musical 'Hamilton' on Broadway at The Richard Rogers Theater on October 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
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The CBS morning show is experimenting with a new format at a time when there is pressure on many of the broadcast A.M. programs to keep early-day viewers hooked. All three big-broadcast programs – ABC’s “Good Morning America,” NBC’s “Today” and CBS’ “CBS This Morning” – lost audience last year. CBS continues to lag its two main competitors.

The CBS program’s challenge has been intensified by a change in the anchor team made earlier this year. King, who helped CBS gain more traction in a morning slot where it has traditionally lagged, is now accompanied by Mason, a veteran who has covered everything from business to music, and Doukopil, a former “CBS Sunday Morning” contributor.

The live audience, says Miller, who was named executive producer in April of this year, shows how quickly the show’s new team has come together. “We are pretty lucky to have two hours every morning, and we are really anxious to push the envelope as to how we use it.”

Many news outlets are testing new formats that bring a live audience into the mix, a move that plays with the decades-old anchor-and-a-desk standard that has been the hallmark of TV news broadcasts for decades. The second hour of ABC’s “Good Morning America” relies on a crowd in the studio as anchors like Michael Strahan or Lara Spencer hold forth. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes has been examining his performance with a live audience on Friday nights in a studio that once housed Megyn Kelly’s morning program. CNN has ramped up its use of “town halls” during which Democratic candidates discuss topics such as climate change. And Fox News Channel brings a live crowd to its “Fox & Friends” once a month.

The idea for this forum was sparked back in early summer, says Miller. “We have so many stories we report on every day about the threat of people facing mental health challenges,” she says, whether they encompass school bullying or suicide attempts by first responders. A team of producers approached her about devoting a single show to the subject. As they considered approaches, many felt a program would be served best with conversations.

“We wanted to be more involved than just typical guest segments, and we wanted our anchors to be able to interact with as many people as possible,” Miller says.

Coverage of the topic will not be limited to “CBS This Morning” that day. “CBS Evening News” will also devote time to the challenges of mental health, Miller says, and  correspondent Vladimir Duthiers will “carry the conversation” to CBSN, the company’s live-streaming news outlet.

Viewers probably should not expect to see a live audience on every broadcast, suggests Miller. Wednesday’s visitors aren’t “an audience for audience’s sake,”she says, but rather a “community” of attendees interested in a particular topic. Will “CBS This Morning” curate others? “We will see,” she adds. “We certainly will leave the door open.”

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