REVIEW: MORNING EXPRESS

  • SHOW: Morning Express with Robin Meade (HLN)
  • AIRDATE:  Monday, November 23, 2015
  • ANCHOR: Robin Meade
  • ON-SET CONTRIBUTORS: Jennifer Westhoven, Brian McFayden
  • WEATHER:  Bob VanDillen

12-5-2015 9-44-47 AMThe true test of a news anchor is to have him or her solo anchor a newscast. It’s the toughest thing an anchor ever has to do. When anchoring several hours of back-to-back newscasts with lots of reads, it’s tough – there’s no one to backstop you if you should have a brain fart, if the promoter burps, if you need to sneeze or get something caught in your throat or in breaking news situations where you’re voicing over live coverage endlessly with few details.   To anchor this type of show while also injecting personality is nearly impossible. But HLN’s Robin Meade makes it look effortless.

There are a few things I don’t like about Morning Express with Robin12-5-2015 9-29-03 AM Meade, but Robin is not one of them. She’s delightful to watch, she reads a prompter as if she’s actually just talking to viewers, she interacts well with the camera and with on-set guests, and she owns her studio. All of those things are difficult to master, but she pulls it off. As I was watching the hour, though, I kept feeling as if something was missing. And I finally realized what it is.  My problem with the show is that because of its format, Robin never utters the words “I think…”. She doesn’t share her thoughts or opinions. And this format desperately needs a point of view. She needs to be opinionated – and produced accordingly. Now, I’m not talking opinionated in the vein of Dr. Laura – whose radio show worked so well because she was nothing but opinions. But Robin needs to get loud once in a while, get angry once in a while, have a good belly laugh once in a while, do something completely “in the moment” that’s unexpected, take some risks beyond what’s expected of a typical news anchor. I like Robin as she is. But I’d love her – I’d become a fan of hers – if I got to know more of what she’s thinking. There are ways to accomplish this, but first, some formatting issues.

12-5-2015 9-42-36 AMThe hour I watched was, for the most part, a Debby Downer. The lead story was the raids taking place in Brussels more than a week after the Paris terrorist bombings. I have no problem with that lead. My issue is that nearly every block in the show included additional terrorism stories. The third block had a suicide bombing in Nigeria, the fourth had a Brussels recap, a Mali gunman, Britain’s war on Isis, and terrorism drills in New York. The next block had the story of a Paris survivor who received anniversary flowers from her boyfriend killed in the attacks. Look, terrorism is news, but come on, the Paris attacks happened ten days prior to this show. Give it a rest. The most valuable service a morning show provides viewers is that it lets them know the world did not end overnight while they were asleep. Viewers use morning TV news like radio – they turn it on and then walk away, listening as they go about starting their day. They don’t want to be bombarded with doom and gloom, block after block. They want the headlines, a cool new trick they can do with their iPhone, a little gossip from Hollywood, and lots of laughter. And they want to get it from someone they like and trust. From someone they respect. And from someone whose opinions matter to them. This could be the show to fill that void.

12-5-2015 6-50-29 PMIn the middle of the first block, Jennifer Westhoven joins Robin at the desk for Black Friday deals. While there was a little interaction, it should have been more of a discussion with both participating. I would have had Jennifer give six examples of Black Friday deals – such as “Amazon has a 60-inch Samsung flat screen on sale for $299, regularly selling for $599 – and it’s also giving you a year of Amazon Prime membership for $50… that’s half the normal cost”. Then go into a deal at JC Penney and Kohls and others, with Robin asking questions about deals and where the real bargains are, rather than Jennifer just doing an overall generic story about how some deals are good, some bad, so you have to shop around – with no specifics. I want specifics. Jennifer should have already shopped around and couldn’t wait to tell us the incredible deals she discovered. This segment could have resulted in some really good back and forth – which the show needs more of.

From there, Robin had to make an awkward turn into a murder story. Stacking these blocks needs to be in reverse pyramid style – from hard stories on down to light. Stacking stories in the wrong places is a problem throughout this hour. Chicago snow should have been the lead-in to weather instead of a Vo the forth story in for no reason – and then returning to weather four stories later.  The third story was an awkward tease about Donald Trump’s thoughts on Syrian refugees which had no business being there.

The forth segment started with a Vo about a Virginia accident, and then after the story Robin welcomed everybody to the new half hour and headlines. Why was that accident story before that? It made no sense and killed any semblance of flow – shouldn’t the top of the block be the start of the next half hour?.  The top headline was Brussels (terrorism) followed by the gyrocopter guy and the weekend box office, then back to terrorism with Britain, a NYC security drill, a Mali gunman followed by a data security breach followed by another gunman. Whaaat? Producing 101 teaches you to stack “like” stories together. It’s called pacing. These stories here were catch as catch can.

The show is beautifully directed shot. The one camera shot I found12-5-2015 9-38-18 AM absolutely appalling, though,  was Robin at the big screen – full frontal – for the entire second block. She stood there, awkwardly, like a supermodel with her hand on her hip, while discussing murders and viral outbreaks that were playing on the monitor wall. It felt to me like a blatant attempt to cash in on Robin’s figure (which makes no sense since men don’t watch morning news) – and is simply not an appropriate way to tell a story. I thought these awful full frontals disappeared from CNN when David Bohrman did.

12-5-2015 9-43-04 AMRobin has three companions in the studio: Jennifer, who does financial news, Bob VanDillen doing weather and Brian McFayden doing sports. But even with these three, the show feels lonely. There’s not much interaction between them all – and there’s a noticeable separation from them and Robin. Brian is always far off on another set somewhere and Bob is at the green screen, so these guys become compartmentalized rather than utilized12-5-2015 9-36-14 AM throughout the show. And that’s too bad because they could really add some noise to the show now and then. Giving these guys more time to interact with Robin would allow her to share opinions more naturally because she’s involved in a conversation. This doesn’t have to be trifle chat, it can be smart talk about any of the stories featured on the show. I’ve worked with many excellent “smart talk” talent who were so good at pointing things out and sharing an opinion that I’ve often killed off whole blocks in the show just to keep the conversation going because it made for great television.

Morning Express has a very clean, slick look. And I like that. The danger is you don’t want that feeling to cross over into “sterile”. Upping the roles of these three sidekicks in the show doesn’t take away from Robin in the least. It strengthens her even more because it would give her an opportunity to talk to someone other than the camera, to express some warmth in situations that are difficult when you’re the only one on set, and it allows her to share an opinion – passionate and thought-provoking ideas that bond her to viewers. It’s time to up the ante. The show’s playing it safe. And that’s no good for anybody. In my review, I give Robin herself a 10, but I need to knock off a few points for producing problems and lack of imagination. -7-.

Ray Signature

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