Tony Dokoupil renews deal with CBS News as Morning Wars enter a new phase

Some people gird themselves for battle by donning armor. Tony Dokoupil just bought a second pair of dress shoes.

“I had the same pair of brown, battered, nasty dress shoes—my good shoes. I’ve been wearing them for several years now,” the CBS Mornings co-host confided in a recent interview.

Dokoupil, 41, has reason to refresh his wardrobe. He and CBS News have renewed his contract, bringing the team behind the network’s morning news show — Gayle King and Nate Burleson also co-host the show, while Vladimir Duthiers is a regular contributor — on board for the next several years. It’s a sign that CBS and parent company Paramount Global are confident in the show, which, while remaining in third place behind ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today, has delivered viewership gains in key categories in the current struggle an interesting new phase is upon us for AM news viewers.

In recent weeks, “GMA” has supplanted “Today” in a critical audience category; People aged 25 to 54. It’s the kind of viewership advertisers pay more for, and the ABC show has trumped the efforts of its rival NBC over the past seven weeks. Typically, “Today” dominates the key demographic group. Meanwhile, with a new format that launched last September, “CBS Mornings” has seen an increase in female viewership in this age group — the core audience that Madison Avenue has come to expect from the programs. Under executive producer Shawna Thomas, CBS Mornings saw a 6% increase in female audiences 25-54 in the quarter to date, while Today’s declined 13% and GMA’s declined 15%. All three programs have seen a decline in viewership in the overall 25-54 category in recent weeks.

At stake: advertising in the millions. According to Kantar, an ad spend tracker, CBS’s morning program grossed $110.7 million in 2021, compared to nearly $298.3 million for NBC’s “Today:” and roughly $280 million for ABC’s ” Good Morning America”.

CBS News top executive sees new opportunities in AM “The revamped ‘CBS Mornings’ — distinguished every day for its hard-hitting reporting, longer stories and exclusive interviews — comes into its own,” said Neeraj Khemlani, co-president the CBS News and Broadcasting Division, via email. “The program is closer to its competitors now than it has ever been in franchise history—more than 10 years ago, more than 5 years ago. Gayle, Tony, Nate and Vlad have incredible chemistry, and under the strong leadership of Shawna Thomas, the entire host, reporting and producing teams have tailwind… and the audience is clearly responding.”

Dokoupil brings new ingredients to the CBS morning recipe. He readily admits he hasn’t spent years making it through the ranks of television news and says the only reason he got through college was because he played baseball. “I had the least fancy upbringing,” he notes, and his 2014 book The Last Pirate: A Father, His Son, and the Golden Age of Marijuana recounts his relationship with his father, who worked for years as a marijuana smuggler was active .

He spent several years as a writer for Newsweek, The Daily Beast and NBC News’ digital operations before joining CBS News as a correspondent and contributor to “Sunday Morning.” But his time as a print writer taught him what he still does today: “You find out something new and you explain it to the widest possible audience – arouses their interest,” he says.

During his time on CBS This Morning, Dokoupil was often sent to major breaking news venues, whether it be in Uvalde, Texas or on the Poland-Ukraine border. For the facilitator, the key to these tasks is not necessarily found by interviewing authorities, although that remains part of the job. But he makes a point of “talking to regular people, where the story is happening, and happening to them.”

He’s also developing a reputation for explaining abstract concepts to viewers in a way that makes the themes stick. He’s kept tabs on companies like Juul and Puff Bar that have sidestepped the rules binding more typical nicotine and tobacco products. Last week he investigated why local TV stations can’t block political ads that contain lies. He was an early investigator of the rising popularity of the so-called “metaverse,” and launched an intriguing experiment in which he tested the reliability of postal voting by tracking sham ballots mailed near Philadelphia.

“These aren’t typical TV stories, but we’re getting better at putting them on TV” by telling them through the voices of “normal, everyday people,” he says. He’s also delving into streaming video with a new program, The Uplift, which focuses on stories that motivate and inspire.

CBS is banking on Dokoupil, King and Burleson to carry a show that has long taken a different approach from the morning news. When CBS This Morning, which Dokoupil joined in 2019, debuted, it was known for eschewing some of AM television’s fancier traditions like cooking segments and Halloween celebrations. CBS News doubled down on the concept, merging its weekday morning programming with the long-running — and long-running successful — Sunday news show. Now, the 8 o’clock hour tends to move away from the news, instead focusing on longer segments of corporate coverage, something that’s also at the heart of CBS News’ Saturday morning show.

Dokoupil’s marriage to NBC News correspondent and MSNBC host Katy Tur has also garnered some attention. The couple can sometimes be seen going back and forth on Twitter, and recently Dokoupil interviewed his wife on the CBS Sunday show as part of a segment about her new memoir.

But Dokoupil says he knows a large part of a morning show’s appeal comes from a larger team, not just a single host. “It’s all about family at the table,” he says. “It has to be a family you want to hang out with.”

As evidenced by his recent shoe purchase, Dokoupil clearly believes he still has some miles to go. Tony Dokoupil renews deal with CBS News as Morning Wars enter a new phase

Charles Jones

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