Apr 09, 2020

By Kelby Clark
An interview with 'CBS This Morning' executive producer Diana Miller.

When New York became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, CBS This Morning executive producer Diana Miller and her staff went from covering the crisis to working within its imposing limitations. With closed studios and quarantined correspondents, it seemed like Miller was calling her team with changes to the show’s staffing, location, or format nearly every day.

“The basics of studio production and the patterns we’ve created from being on the air for all these years all of the sudden had gone out the window,” she says. 

The morning show has made several changes to adapt to the relentless coronavirus news cycle. Reporters interview guests over Zoom and Skype, the majority of the two-hour broadcast is dedicated to the public health crisis, and contributing medical doctors are at the forefront of coverage. The CBS News operation is also making updates to protect the staff as much as it can. 

Last week, CBS This Morning took a moment to recognize Maria Mercader, a CBS News veteran who worked for over 30 years as a producer and talent director. Mercader died March 29 after testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. She had been on medical leave for an unrelated matter since late February.

Diana Miller Diana Miller

"The team is working around the clock to serve our viewers as much information out there as possible."

Diana Miller

Executive Producer of "CBS This Morning"

CBS This Morning moved studio locations three times due to the threat of exposure to the COVID-19 virus in the buildings, and it’s downsized to a skeleton crew during the live broadcasts to comply with federal and state social distancing guidelines. As of March 30, all the anchors are reporting live from makeshift sets in their homes. 

 “The team is working around the clock to serve our viewers as much information out there as possible,” explains Miller. The program drew an average audience of 3.3 million from March 16 to March 22, up 6% in total viewers from last year.  

Miller has been a producer on CBS This Morning since 2014, becoming the executive producer last spring. “This is a unique situation because coronavirus is one broad, urgent topic,” says Miller. “But the show still consistently looks to make sure we're delivering a range of angles and themes for our audience each day.”

“The most important thing is getting our reporters on the air.”

The show is currently operating with the entire staff working mostly from home, due to studio closures. The circumstances have proven that the group is agile and adaptable. 

“The creativity and ingenuity that can go into a news production is now on full display, as we’re all learning to communicate and report without the technology or environment we’re used to,” says Miller.

“We're being honest about the challenges and how we're feeling. And, I think we’ve connected as a team and as a company more than ever before because there is such a universal humanity in this story and there are such universal feelings.”

"All of our anchors and people on the staff, are willing to do whatever it takes to stay on the air."

Correspondents and anchors rely on video conferencing apps to communicate in lieu of the “dynamic conversations” they’re accustomed to having around a table or in the greenroom at their homebase, Studio 57 on West 57th Street in Manhattan.

Gayle King interviewed Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg via video conference on March 18, and the show’s Lead National Correspondent David Begnaud interviewed Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards last week from his apartment in Manhattan.

CBS News correspondent Vladimir Duthiers has been covering the coronavirus crisis from his apartment since CBS News first closed its offices on March 11, with many segments showing him moving throughout different areas of his apartment. He works with a small camera crew whose focus is less on the perfect shot and more on providing an honest look at the current situations.

“When people see Vlad reporting from home, they can connect to the sudden change that's gone into his life in terms of his job. The standard for the perfect live shot has changed, with the adjustment to smaller camera crews,” Miller explains. 

Co-anchor Anthony Mason has been reporting from his apartment in Manhattan without a camera crew, so as to not disrupt his self-quarantine, since March 25. In case anything goes awry—his mic and light went out after more than an hour of set-up in the first week he was home—he has a large support team over the phone to assist him with anything technical.

“The most important thing is getting our reporters on the air, wherever they are,” explains Miller. “And, all of our anchors and people on the staff, are willing to do whatever it takes to stay on the air."

"Focusing on first responders has been important for us because they are on the frontlines."

To cover the crisis, the news program has broadcast Q&As with experts and exclusive interviews with government officials.

It’s also approached the human and practical side of the pandemic, featuring people like Catherine and Harry Zollars, two sibling pharmacists from St. Louis who described what it's like to be on the frontlines of the crisis; Clay Bentley, a resident of Georgia who survived coronavirus after spending 12 days in a hospital; and retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson who shared advice on dealing with self-isolation based on the 665 days she spent on the International Space Station.

“Whenever you’re chasing a story that’s developing, there are threads that emerge. Focusing on first responders has been important for us because they are on the frontlines, and it’s important we’re showing the reality of the situations they are in everyday.”

CBS The Morning also features its regular contributing medical doctors—Dr. David Agus, Dr. Jonathan LaPook, and Dr. Tara Narula—on a daily basis. The doctors vet new medical reports and studies and help producers determine the best way to explain them to viewers.

“We've always been driven by the news and want to provide context and clarity on the important stories of the day. We have the anchors who can not only deliver news-making interviews and investigations, but also have some light and positive moments. There's not a show that goes by in which we don't laugh. And I think that's key in times like these.”

 

“CBS This Morning” airs weekdays from 7 to 9 a.m. ET on CBS and CBSN.

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