FOUR ON 7'S FLOOR: All female in the morning.
Though all the efforts put forth by the local stations between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. seem to follow the same mold with a ripple here and there, KATV, Channel 7’s morning show “Daybreak” has been generating lots of buzz (pro and con) in the past month over its switch to something completely new.
Since April 18, the show has been on a straight diet of estrogen, featuring a panel of four female hosts — two of whom had never been before the cameras professionally.
On deck are Channel 7 veterans Melinda Mayo and Beth Hunt along with Shareese Kondo (formerly a print journalist with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and most recently in public relations with UALR) and Nicole Capri (currently the educational programs director with the Arkansas Repertory Theatre). Mayo does the weather and pretty much serves as ringmaster, while Hunt handles most of the heavy lifting on the news side. Kondo and Capri manage a lot of the lifestyle segments. All four participate in the witty banter department.
Randy Dixon, KATV’s news director, said the change has been in the works for several months and is the brainchild of himself and Channel 7 general manager Dale Nicholson. Though the show may draw comparisons to ABC’s “The View” — which features four women talking about items from the day’s news — Dixon said the original idea was based on pairing up two pros with two newcomers for a more refreshing viewpoint. It wasn’t “gender based,” Dixon said.
Dixon’s denials of “View”-cloning aside, the lineup looks a lot like the one seen on that program, even down to having two professional broadcasters and two “everywomen,” as well as what looks like a lineup designed to cast as wide a demographic net as possible — the wild and artsy one; the African-American with dreadlocks; the sassy professional in mid-career; the young woman just starting out. To boot, KATV flew the group to New York where they paid a visit to the set of “The View,” working in a few interviews with native Arkansan females who’ve made it big in the world: Cosmopolitan’s Helen Gurley Brown and designer Laura Day for two.
“We liked the idea of having two traditional broadcasters … but then to have two kind of non-broadcasters,” Dixon said. “It just happened that the two that we thought jelled the best happened to be women.” By going outside the field of broadcast pros for talent, Dixon said, he hopes the show will offer a different and interesting perspective. Asked if he thinks the all-female show might scare off the male audience, Dixon said, “From a content standpoint, the show shouldn’t alienate anybody.”
His own high hopes aside, Dixon admits he has received some complaints about the new “Daybreak,” which he said is par for any change. “I’ve gotten a lot of good comments on it and there’s some people who don’t like it,” Dixon said. “Part of the complaints are that they say it’s a bunch of women sitting around, but I think if they’d watch the program they’d see that that’s not what it is.”
So, how is it? While clearly still a work in progress, for the most part the new “Daybreak” is surprisingly informative and fun. Does it seem like an awful lot of heads trying to fill a very small screen? Sure. But after watching the show for a while — and a few cups of coffee — the truth is: It tends to grow on you. While Mayo still seems a little stiff, Capri a little over-caffeinated and Kondo a little silent (I’m assuming that, like most print folks, Kondo thinks of exactly the right thing to say in a given situation just about four-and-a-half hours after the situation is over), their impromptu chats are getting more and more impromptu as the weeks roll on, giving the show pretty much the feel that Dixon and Co. seem to have been aiming for: like you’ve stumbled into an early morning coffee klatch — something KATV might build on by not having the quartet constantly bounce back and forth between the central desk and the more relaxed coffee-table-and-easy-chairs set.
On the downside, both Kondo and Capri (while both sincere and genuine, even laughing it off when they flub a line) need to go home, turn on the closed-captioning on their TVs, and read the dialogue until it doesn’t sound like they’re reading the dialogue. (I can’t gripe too much here, as the thought of reading something from a teleprompter gives me the out-and-out willies — which is why the only time you’ll ever see me on TV is when I inevitably get my turn, as all Arkansans eventually will, to tell a soaking-wet reporter that “the tornader sounded just like a freight train.”)
In the end, the success or failure of the new “Daybreak” will depend on whether people can get over their “View”-phobia and take a chance on it; which in turn depends on whether or not the four principals can continue coalescing into something resembling a group of friends who happen to work on the same TV show. In a situation so dependent on chemistry, the idea that these four are anything other than best pals might well sink the ship. For now, however, steady as she goes.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.