In high school, I used to eat breakfast with Jane Pauley and Tom Brokaw of “The Today Show.” No, they were not sharing a bowl of Wheat Chex with me. But they kept me company through the television screen, presenting the news and peeling open the boundaries of my narrow world in southern Virginia. As a teenager who had never been on an airplane, morning news programming provided me with a ticket to exotic locations and insight into the struggles of people across the globe.
Later, as an adult, I was star struck after seeing Katie Couric while on jury duty in New York City. (Alas, she was dismissed on the first day. I was not. Stars — they’re not just like us!). In spite of my deeply liberal politics, I know in my heart what great buddies I could be with Jenna Bush Hager. And don’t we all wish we were related to Al Roker?
That’s why this morning, while listening to “The Today Show” broadcast on the car radio, I surprised even myself when I announced to an empty back seat, “I’m done.” Turn on any mainstream morning TV program, and the line-ups focus on some serious news stories, but also lighter fare like health, travel, cooking, entertainment news, and just plain shooting the breeze. I used to appreciate the hum of the chatty hosts keeping me company in the morning, as I unloaded the dishwasher, prepared my family’s and dog’s breakfasts, and started a new day.
But I’ve been put off by a recent shift in tone and content. Now, instead of reporting on the news, or even offering useful recipes for Labor Day picnics, a good part of the four-hour line-up consists of a panel of hosts engaging in conversational drivel about, well, not much. Their nattering is occasionally broken up with sensational stories about death, crime, and other “news” that tugs at viewers’ emotions.
And the other day was the last straw. Apparently, the almost 70-year-old actor Richard Gere and his wife are expecting a second child. I listened as a panel gave their “expert” opinions regarding this “news.” It was almost embarrassing to hear them droning on about whether or not it is responsible for a person to take on this momentous role in this geriatric phase of life. I happened to agree with one of the panelists — who reminded viewers that there are many different types of families, and that children are fortunate to be cared for by loving parents. And I’m sure the esteemed actor is so relieved that the television panel gave its blessing for his wife to proceed with her pregnancy.
After a commercial break, host Megyn Kelly criticized the comedian Jimmy Kimmel for his “anti-Republican” hosting of the Oscars last year. Next, she gushed about her favorite movie, “Jaws,” then shared the heartbreaking, tragic story of an 11-year-old girl who left her house to go out and play and was found dead in a ditch the next day.
Another guest then told about the death of her sister, possibly at the hand of the sister’s boyfriend. Has anyone actually tallied the number of dead females discussed on one of the middle hours of the show? It’s disturbing. And don’t get me started on the number of times the word “cancer” appears on these programs. When did morning television become a video version of tabloid news?
As our atmospheric and political climates continue to heat up, political conflict has seeped into the previously gentle space of morning television. On the weekend news programs, well-versed hosts of political talk shows typically spar with their guests — but that kind of skirmish did not used to apply to 8 A.M. weekday segments about pregnancy fitness. Now everyone seems to be peeved and filled with sharp opinions.
I’m not the only person feeling disappointed with morning television. There’s been a marked drop in viewership for morning programs across the board. Maybe people no longer want to hear a bunch of millionaire journalists griping about having to get up early and sharing stories about their lovely vacations. Maybe just a bit too depressing to hear sensational news stories first thing in the morning. Some days, it’s just easier to watch The Brady Bunch reruns.
Admittedly, now that I’m diving into my 50s, I’m a bit more sensitive than I used to be. With my oldest child going off to college in a few weeks, plus chronic worries about my aging parents, the last thing I need to in the morning are alarmist reports about mold, school security lapses, and tracking devices on telephone apps. My mom has been anxious about these issues — and hundreds more — for years, so I’m sure she could offer the producers a never-ending list of potential terrors lurking in everyday life (looking directly at the sun during an eclipse, eating raw cookie dough batter, popping pimples too close to the nose, sushi, lightning).
This morning, I didn’t catch the bone-thin nutritionist who informed us about not eating so much sugar while encouraging us to move around more. Nothing wrong with that kind of advice, clearly, but it’s summer, for goodness sake. Can I just eat some melting ice cream in peace?
Maybe when fall rolls around again, I’ll be more in the mood for the morning lineup. For now, though, I’ll be listening to a rebroadcast of Geico Sports Night, hearing about another Mets heartbreaking loss — that’s about all the heartbreak I can take early in the morning — and taking the dog for a brisk walk outside. The morning talk show correspondents will just have to confer about celebrity parenting styles in their sleeveless shift dresses without me.