CBS Celebrates 9 Years of 'Sunday Mornings'

Times Staff Writer

Just hours before the Super Bowl babble begins Sunday, CBS News' quiet, Thoreau-like "Sunday Morning" will start its 10th year with the day's news, followed by glimpses of its past nine years on the air.

The show has had two recent changes. It now has a letters segment and a weather report, which former executive producer Shad Northshield dropped shortly after "Sunday" premiered, but which Charles Kuralt has brought back.

That's about it, said Kuralt, the bald, mellow-voiced North Carolinian who has anchored the 90-minute broadcast since "Sunday Morning" began. (It airs in Los Angeles 7:30-9 a.m. on Channel 2.)

"I looked at the first one the other day, and really, things haven't changed too much," he said. It still has its pastoral ending "and the emphasis on the arts and a little bit of criticism."

He spoke about it this week from frozen, snow-covered Minnesota, where he was doing one of his "On the Road" features that have appeared on the "CBS Evening News" since 1967.

"I don't know what we're doing in Minnesota in January," he said. "It didn't seem a bad idea at the time. . . ."

"He's up to the M's," Northshield explained at his warm office here. "He always does the states alphabetically."

Northshield, who left "Sunday Morning" last year and was succeeded by Linda Mason, has been a friend of Kuralt's for years. The two are working in bits and pieces on a pilot for "Try to Remember," a series about contemporary history.

The producer had little trouble remembering the origins of "Sunday Morning."

He was in Washington, working on a documentary. Bill Leonard, who had been named to succeed CBS News President Richard S. Salant, called and asked him to come over to his house to talk about a new Sunday broadcast.

Uh-oh, Northshield thought upon learning the broadcast would be in the morning, in time slots held by the well-regarded but low-rated "Camera Three," "Lamp Unto My Feet" and "Look Up and Live."

Leonard, he said, told him this: "I want you to think of CBS as a newspaper with a lot of editions, and this is the Sunday edition."

Artsy stuff, too? Northshield inquired.

"He (Leonard) said, 'Yeah, and more retrospective and more introspective. There are only two things that I absolutely demand. One is that it be noted for its excellent writing, and two, that you have a television critic who really criticizes television.' "

(Jeff Greenfield, now the official media analyst at ABC News, was the first "Sunday Morning" TV critic. Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize winner, succeeded him and does commentary on films, TV and other matters.)

CBS's "Sunday," praised for its literacy, differs from weekday network morning programs in two other regards:

--It offers regular reports on classical music from Eugenia Zukerman, a flutist, and on jazz from pianist Billy Taylor. (But it eschews a new growth industry: chats with aging '60s rock stars seeking comebacks.)

--Its pace is far slower than that of the weekday shows, where it often seems the guest has just opened his mouth as the host hurriedly says, "We're out of time thanks for being with us coming up next. . . ."

"We consciously try to do leisurely things, to really get into subjects and take our time and speak softly," Kuralt said. "I don't like the rapid pace of (weekday) morning TV."

Last Sept. 20, his program got its first real competition in years when NBC started up a 90-minute "Sunday Today" co-hosted by Maria Shriver and Boyd Matson.

Younger faces, but CBS' older program remains the ratings champ, so far. According to A.C. Nielsen estimates, NBC's entry--veteran correspondent Garrick Utley will succeed Matson on Feb. 7--has averaged a 1.7 rating so far this season. Kuralt & Co. are easily ahead with a 4.2 average.

Each rating point represents 886,000 homes.

Whether this will continue only time will tell, as TV correspondents sometimes say. But Northshield is proud that "Sunday Morning" is even around today.

"Nobody, but nobody, thought anything could survive in that (early) time period. The program invented its own time period just as 'Nightline' (ABC News' late-evening broadcast) did.

"That's why I object to people saying, 'Oh God, they've got to give us a better time period for our show.' I think that to get any time period is wonderful."

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