REVIEW: WGN MORNING NEWS

  • SHOW: WGN Morning News at 7AM, Chicago, Tribune Media
  • SHOW DATE: Monday, November 2, 2015
  • ANCHORS:  Larry Potash, Robin Baumgarten
  • WEATHER: Paul Konrad
  • TRAFFIC IN CHOPPER:  Erin McElroy
  • SPORTS: Pat Tomasulo
  • LIVE REPORTER: Judy Wang
  • LIVE REPORTER: Tonya Francisco
  • LIVE FEATURE: Ama Belaval
  • ENTERTAINMENT: Dean Richards
  • FULL DISCLOSURE: When I was showrunning the KTLA Morning News, Tribune decided because its L.A. show was so successful, it would start up a similar show in Chicago. So early on, I briefly consulted with the WGN Morning News EP. I know Larry Potash rather well. And most recently, I’ve EP’d Tribune’s two incarnations of Eye Opener.
  • LIVE STREAM: Here

Because of my history with Tribune, I’d normally pass on reviewing one of its shows. But I can’t NOT talk about the 11-3-2015 3-39-00 PMWGN Morning News because I think it’s the best morning news show in the country right now – bar none. It’s a solid 9 pushing a 10. Larry and Robin are truly a dynamic duo and along with Paul and Pat, the show is vibrant and alive and unpredictable. They’re the people you want to wake up to, their show isn’t overwrought with doom and gloom, their chopper provides a window on Chicago, they have a “hint” of an attitude and their signature segments are outstanding. They also know how to get some of their goings-on to go viral.

robin-baumgartenRobin is the ideal host for this show format. She’s strong but subtle, not overbearing, and the type of woman every female viewer would like to have as a friend. She’s not overly glam, she’s not about “what I’m wearing today” or “how low cut my blouse is”, she doesn’t have what I call “complicated hair” and above everything else, she’s “warm”. She’s a fireplace of warmth and all these things combined are tough to find in one personality.

Larry, on the other hand, is a collaborative collection of contradictions. He appears to larry-potash-750xx2250-3000-75-0be the mild-mannered newsman of old – the trusted, tried and true 1960’s CBS anchorman with the deep, reverberating pipes and the calm demeanor that assures his viewers the world has not ended overnight while they were sleeping. But on a dime and without warning, he turns into a bad boy – lovable and well-meaning – but often in need of a good spanking. And that’s a good thing. Examples are all over YouTube – including my favorite promo they created mocking their competition. Larry wrote the catch-phrase,

“We put the suck in succeed”,

which I can’t believe got on the air! Check it out:

Larry is responsible for some of the most outrageous and memorable one-liners (like “Caboose Pistol”), and signature segments that straddle that tricky line we all try not to cross. He’s solid with breaking news and the perfect sparring partner for Robin.

promo268325852Paul and Pat are valuable members of the TV family and provide foil and fodder for Larry and Robin on a regular basis. Pat, in fact, is the only “live” sportscaster on a morning show because Chicago is such a rabid sports town. Morning shows in most markets would look at an on-set sportscaster as a liability, but on WGN Morning News, he’s essential to their success.

This show had three “live” reporters, two of them covering newspromo248540333 and one doing a feature. I was hoping to see Tonya Francisco in rare form – but she pretty much played it straight – unlike this brilliant “live shot” she did a while ago that went viral:

The show is well produced with a good time-split between the news and the nonsense. There’s no faux “breathlessness” that the network shows create to hype their coverage with a sense of urgency. The news coverage is a good mix of local and national/international coverage with two remotes on local stories. On this show, they had an on-set-news guest, a Cook County prosecutor who discussed the city’s judicial issues. I’m not a fan of on-set news interviews and here’s why: Viewers are brushing their teeth or tying their kids shoes, they don’t have the where-with-all to sit down and listen to a 4-minute discussion on civic issues. It’s something the networks still do and you can just hear those remotes changing channels. It’s always important to remember that many if not most viewer use their favorite morning show as “radio” – they just listen while they go about getting ready for their day, so the show’s audio needs to be as compelling as its video. A civics discussion just doesn’t do it.

The element WGN uses that worked so well for the original KTLA Morning News was a chopper with a live reporter. Seeing the city from the chopper really makes you feel as though you’re connected to the outside world and not shut off in your apartment or house somewhere. Live bump shots and interesting views from the sky are so valuable in this morning format.

11-3-2015 3-24-30 PMThe key thing WGN has mastered is its splendid use of signature segments. Along with the bogus promo example above, this show included a Larry’s World look at bizarre old-timey record covers. Who knew? But my favorite is the guessing game – match the mugshots with the crimes they’re charged with. This is one of those “damn, I wish I thought of that” segments. It astounds me in this day and age how producers don’t “get” how valuable signature segments are to creating a unique identity for their show. Look at the hits Jimmy Kimmel gets on YouTube for his signature segments – Celebrities Reading Mean TweetsLiewitness News and all the others. Viewers eat this up and bond to the show. Remember watching Saturday Night Live and hoping they’re going to do a Church Lady segment or a Wayne’s World or Mary Katherine Gallagher. That’s what signature segments are all about – anticipation and payoff. And WGN Morning News is a master at the payoff – rewarding viewers for sticking around through the breaks. As well, they’re masters at the art of conversation. Who can forget this?

Caboose pistol. Nuff said.

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