Seeking to refreshen itself through nostalgia, NBC’s venerable “Today” last year reopened its once-famous window to the street to again let Manhattan pedestrians gawk at the show and be seen on it. And “CBS This Morning” will try shuffling off to a Broadway theater this fall, hoping a permanent studio audience will liberate it from eternal ratings obscurity.
Network morning shows have been in rigor mortis for so long that any variation appears revolutionary.
Hence, the ongoing success of KTLA-TV Channel 5’s whimsical morning news program, whose Los Angeles ratings leave in the dust those network dinosaurs “Today,” “This Morning” and ABC’s “Good Morning, America.” And, hence, ensuing efforts by KTTV-TV Channel 11 to follow Channel 5’s example and cleave its own slab from this morning cash cow.
But TV’s true renegade of morning showdom is none of the above.
It’s “Breakfast Time,” one of a handful of original programs on Fox’s rerun-thick fX cable network that arrived 14 1/2 months ago. Shown here now on a three-hour delay but airing live nationally starting Sept. 4, “Breakfast Time” is masterfully choreographed chaos, two hours of grand nonsense directed at viewers who roll out of bed hungering for fun, not headlines.
And fun they get, at 7 a.m. seven days a week (with reruns on weekends). How serious can you be when one of your co-hosts is a goofy puppet named Bob?
“Breakfast Time” does slide in a few news blurbs now and then, just to remind its viewers that what they’re watching is not the pirate transmission from extraterrestrials that it often appears to be. But happily, the show’s heart is elsewhere, its apparent determination to impart not one driblet of usable information being one of the qualities that makes it so distinctive and endearing.
An exception is its “Thought of the Day” from legendary kids show icon Bob (Captain Kangaroo) Keeshan: “Why go into something to test waters? Go into it to make waves.” Well, it’s a gig.
“Breakfast Time” whizzes by, elevating frivolity to high art, never pretending to be anything other than it is. In addition to Bob the google-eyed puppet (voice by Al Rosenberg), the likable, quick-witted hosts of “Breakfast Time” are Tom Bergeron, a charismatic former Boston talk show host who works in shirt-sleeves; Laurie Hibberd, a former Miami entertainment reporter who’s the girl you’d bring home to meet your mom, and Jim Kocot, an unseen announcer and man of many wisecracks who also does weather segments, crudely marking up maps with a telestrator.
Their Manhattan workplace (and home of all fX-produced live series) is known as The Apartment because it looks like an apartment and, in fact, is one, a 16,500-square-foot former china showroom that fX gutted and refitted as a fully functional, fully furnished, tacky-chic living abode that looks out on 26th Street and 5th Avenue below, giving viewers a taste of New York that’s unavailable from ABC’s “NYPD Blue.”
When not toning up and doing other bits in nearby Madison Square Park, Bergeron and Hibberd and their various colleagues roam The Apartment’s rooms, coffee mugs in hand, constantly talking and walking over each other, at times appearing to catch by surprise the anonymous people who seem to be just hanging around. So fluid is “Breakfast Time,” so thick its aura of spontaneity, that everyone on the show appears to be winging it.
Take Friday, for example. “Breakfast Time” asks out-of-town families visiting the city to call ahead of time to add their names to a pool from which a few are selected to appear on the show. So, enter the Stevens family from Lexington, Ky.--parents, two kids, two friends--all of them escorted to the kitchen, seated at a table and rustled up breakfast. But gads, then a second family showed up, claiming they were the Stevens family invited to appear on the show. After displaying their IDs, they were allowed to remain.
The dueling Stevens families commingled, then, roaming The Apartment, melted into the crowd. Was this amusingly bizarre episode even loosely scripted? It didn’t seem to be, yet. . . .
Of course, it’s no accident that Bob the puppet sits in on most interviews in The Apartment, as he did on Friday, leering over the shoulder of the editor of an alternative magazine who was chatting with Hibberd, seeming not to notice the plushy face just behind him. Later Bob was visible in the background as Hibberd learned about “divas” from one of the show’s many specialists, music maven Karyn Bryant, while sitting on a bed strewn with photos.
Thus, the interviews and feature segments are inevitably props that serve another agenda, intended only as the butts of jokes. Is “Breakfast Time” Reporter Hell or what? On Friday, the show’s Jillian Hamilton was again at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, this time checking in from a museum featuring mummies. Scholarly stuff, but also ripe pickings for someone at “Breakfast Time” with more of a nose for absurdity than for archeology. Thus, while conducting a live interview at the museum, Hamilton was intercut with a shot of the newly mummified Bob the puppet, his head wrapped in white cloth. Later, Bergeron was shown wrapping a Barbie doll.
Earlier, Spencer Garbett reported in-depth from a cracker factory: “This is how to make a cracker.” Who said this show wasn’t serious.
Like the “KTLA Morning News,” “Breakfast Time” has also mastered the art of self-effacing self promotion, turning corporate narcissism into a joke. Thus, the star of Friday’s show was not a person, it was the Batmobile, one of the original retooled Thunderbirds used on the old “Batman” TV series. After using much of the morning to build to the moment, Bergeron left The Apartment and took a slow ride in the Batmobile, as a technician jogged on the sidewalk giving him sound cues.
The tie-in? “Batman” airs on fX twice a day.
Not only that, but the show’s featured guest Friday was Shannon Lee, co-star of a new syndicated martial arts series that, Hibberd reminded viewers, will be “on a lot of Fox affiliates--so tune in.” And as a bonus, Lee is the daughter of the late Bruce Lee, who played Kato on “The Green Hornet,” which airs on fX twice on Saturday and Sunday.
“Breakfast Time” is such a kick, however, that its chauvinism is tolerable, if not pardonable. It departed Friday following a performance by guest singer-songwriter Edwin McCain occasionally punctuated by an alien sound in the background. No one seemed to mind that it was the voice of an infant, the Stevens infant from Kentucky. Bryant and Katie, eat your heart out.