I think I started watching CBS Sunday Morning, the venerable weekend extension of the CBS early morning news program, when my son was in college. We'd wake up early on Sunday and watch together... surprisingly on his suggestion, not mine. I'm not sure why a 20-something year-old would want to watch a show that was obviously geared to an older audience, but, who was I to argue. So, we watched. Together.
At the time, the show was hosted by the avuncular Charles Osgood, who was well into a decade of hosting after taking over the reigns from the equally-avuncular Charles Kurault. Osgood was a friendly, folksy fellow, nattily dressed in a comfortable tweed suit and a hand-knotted bowtie at his throat. He introduced relatable tales of regular folks tending to home gardens or feisty grandparents who had formed a rock group or proud World War II vets being honored by their small-town neighbors with a very homemade-looking parade. It was ninety minutes of a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. There was weather and fun facts interspersed among the stories, as well as a not-too-heavy editorial, a movie recommendation and maybe a humorous piece or recognition of a notable passing. The whole thing was capped off with a nearly-silent bit of footage of some wildlife cavorting in their natural habitat, like coyotes in the desert or penguins waddling across a snowdrift. Credits would roll and I'd change the channel, interrupting a scowling Bob Schieffer as he announced the day's topic of Face the Nation.
Even after my son moved out — first with roommates, then to his own house — we continued to watch CBS Sunday Morning together, making our comments to each other via text messages instead of a nudge on the sofa. We'd offer each other observations about Charles Osgood's piano playing (of which there was a substantial amount) or the antics of prairie dogs popping in and out of holes in the sunbaked Badlands of South Dakota like a real life Whack-a-Mole game.
Suddenly, Charles Osgood announced his retirement, handing the mantle over to regular correspondent and former NBC Today Show host Jane Pauley. At first, we were, of course, disappointed in the pending departure of Charles Osgood. The guy had served the show well, but he was 83. He earned the pleasure of retirement after a long and illustrious career. As longtime fans of the show, we felt Jane Pauley was a fine choice to continue the tradition of gentle stories to accompany our coffee and (sometimes) schmeared bagels — not that CBS ever asked our opinion. On October 9, 2016, CBS Sunday Morning opened with a smiling Jane Pauley at the helm.
It was all downhill from there.
Within the first few weeks of Jane Pauley taking over as the host of CBS Sunday Morning, the show began to take on a noticeably different tone. Where the program once steered clear of most things political — leaving that subject to be dealt with during the weekday news reports or by the talking heads on Face the Nation — they were now kicking things off with some serious, often trouble-invoking, piece about the turmoil in Washington. The reports would run way too long and way too in-depth and seemed out of place in the Sunday morning timeslot usually reserved for a gray-haired woman offering a lesson in canning your own fruit. or a wizened gent carving bird-shaped whistles from the wood of a tree that grew in his front yard, recently felled by a thunderstorm. I, like most of the audience who tunes in to CBS Sunday Morning, come for a respite from spin doctors and other members of the politico. Soon, even non-political stories took on political characteristics, especially when every new episode led with a story about the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, it was important, but information — real, usable information — about the pandemic could easily be obtained by any number of other outlets. CBS Sunday Morning went from being an oasis to being part of the glut.
Then, more changes in mood crept into the program. It took on a very elitist and condescending tone — a very uppity, very exclusive, very clique-y, very white (if you will) attitude. It's target audience was becoming very clear. Sure, I understood who the show was geared towards in the past, but now there was no mistaking the show's intent. It now featured regular cooking segments hosted by the Queen of Out-of-Touch Lifestyle, Martha Stewart. Comfortably sauntering around a kitchen that is bigger than my house, Ms. Stewart offers impromptu instruction for preparing some French-named dish using exotic-sounding ingredients that she grows on her farm — you know, just like the one which you grow your exotic ingredients.
Most of the stories contain interviews with white people by white reporters. If, on the off chance that a person of color is the focus of a report, it is assigned to a black reporter or it is treated like a quaint little novelty, as though this portion of society is something that regular viewers will never ever experience outside of the setting for a movie or, possibly, the very segment they are watching. Steve Hartman does a weekly report — a feel-good story about people just being nice to one another. The subject is usually someone who is down on their luck or suffering from some sort of ailment. I can just imaging the typical home viewer watching and thinking: "Oh, those poor people. I'm glad they don't live near me."
Recently, they brought in Ted Koppel, a one-time respected television journalist. I thought Ted had retired years ago, and, by the content of his reporting, he should have. His reporting style is dismissive and his reports are condescending. He is resting on his thirty-year old laurels and those laurels are no longer applicable to today's issues. But, no one, apparently, has the guts to tell Ted this. Instead, he treats the current story — the one on which he is reporting — like it pales in comparison to the sorts of thing he covered in his heyday.
Even their lighter pieces carry the same, overarching attitude. Recently, I saw a piece about how Wayne Coyne and his band The Flaming Lips are dealing with the pandemic. Coyne and company have been together, in one form or another, for around thirty years. The band was presented as a bunch of upstarts that CBS just found out about. However, a week later, Crosby, Stills and Nash were showcased as though they are the most relevant band on the planet. (Spoiler alert: They are not.)
All during the pandemic, the Sunday Morning staff felt that America — especially their target audience — craved a weekly check-in with Jim Gaffigan. Gaffigan, a popular comedian who tours regularly, was sidelined during the pandemic, like the majority of his fellow performers. Gaffigan took this time to film his innermost feelings about how much he dislikes his family. This became a weekly thing. A thing I don't believe I asked for.
I will watch pretty much anything on television, including shows I hate — Gilligan's Island, I Love Lucy, Mork & Mindy. Last Sunday, I snapped off my weekly viewing of CBS Sunday Morning in favor of mopping our kitchen floor.
That should explain things fairly well.