NEW YORK >> The Super Bowl looms as an important opportunity for the people at "CBS This Morning," although they have no plans to be anywhere near the San Francisco area.
CBS' telecast of the big game is expected to give extra attention to the news show, which is steadily becoming a player in the morning TV world. CBS hopes new viewers tune in, and the show's Gayle King has the spotlight of an interview with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during the pregame show.
"CBS This Morning" is expecting one of its biggest audiences on Monday, the morning after the game, simply through people whose set will still be tuned to CBS because of the night before. Maybe they'll stick around and watch.
Rather than send King or co-anchors Charlie Rose and Norah O'Donnell to the football field, show executive producer Chris Licht is keeping them in New York and trying to build the best possible show around them that day.
"If you do something connected to the Super Bowl, you may get a short-term gain but nobody will make the connection that this is something that they should do as part of their everyday routine," he said.
CBS' morning news show had been an afterthought for decades and, even after the current trio began in 2012, it hasn't left third place behind ABC's "Good Morning America" and NBC's "Today." So far this season, "Good Morning America" averages 5.06 million viewers, "Today" has 4.61 million and "CBS This Morning" has 3.41 million, the Nielsen company said.
But "CTM" has gained nearly a million viewers in four years, a startling figure at a time viewer declines are the norm. ABC's trend line is down; "Good Morning America" has lost some 400,000 viewers in the past year. "Today" has done better lately, but is still about 300,000 viewers down from four years ago, Nielsen said.
Drawing on the networks' strengths from the "CBS Evening News" and "60 Minutes" broadcasts, the morning show has adopted a meat-and-potatoes approach that has clicked at a time its rivals have gone lighter. Its calling cards are the "eye-opener" segment that gives a quick video review of the day's top talking points, and interviews that feature all three of the hosts.
"We're putting on the news," CBS News President David Rhodes said. "It's not that complicated."
One measure of success for King is the long-time crew member at CBS who never used to tell people who asked him what show he worked on. Now, she said, he tells them that it's "CBS This Morning."
The high-profile Super Bowl Sunday assignment is a vote of confidence for both King and the show. Yet it does have its pitfalls. King wants to get a sense of what life is like at the White House on game day and hopes to draw out some of the first lady's sense of humor, and not take a simply straightforward news approach that would not be in keeping with the spirit of the day. But she doesn't want to ignore the news, and doesn't want to look silly.
"The one thing I don't want to hear anybody say is, 'Oh my God, that is so boring,'" she said.
Licht, who was lured to CBS from "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, flatly answers "no" when asked if he's surprised at the viewership gain.
"I have to be honest," he said. "I always felt that if the audience sampled us, they would like us We all believed in our gut that there was a viewer that wasn't being served in the morning, and we gave them that option of hard news."
Rhodes knows better than to make any victory predictions in a time slot that, as King notes, hasn't been a regular winner for CBS since the days of "Captain Kangaroo." At least his rivals aren't so far ahead that he can't see their tail lights anymore.
"We have a lot more people watching now than when we've started," he said. "So anything's possible."