- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Dawn has just cracked over the Mall and Holly Morris — the relentlessly chipper WTTG-TV (Channel 5) features reporter — is trying to rouse a group of sluggish school children who are just moments from their live television debut.

The students have come to the Constitution Gardens pond for the start of National Fishing and Boating Week. It is essentially a made-for-TV event: The pond has been stocked with fish, and the students are here with their poles two hours early because Ms. Morris needs human props for her report on the festivities.

“OK, guys, 30 seconds to air. Get ready to cast your lines,” she blares.

Not everyone could make fishing on the Mall on a Monday morning seem perfectly natural. Holly Morris pulls it off.

Her daily “Fox 5 Morning News” segments have transformed her into a kind of human action figure. On any given morning, viewers may find her ice skating, riding a roller coaster or learning to Flamenco dance — all live and without a script.

“I’m not doing brain surgery here. I know that. But I think if we help people walk out the door with a smile, then there’s value in that,” Ms. Morris said.

During the May ratings sweep, “Fox 5 Morning News” — for the first time in its 14-year history — drew more viewers than NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CBS’ “The Early Show.”

Local newscasts rarely beat their network competitors, but WTTG’s program has always been the-little-show-that-could.

It debuted in June 1990 with a bare-bones budget. Producers filled airtime cheaply by gathering pundits around the show’s green marble table for political discussions.

This gave the show a big following on Capitol Hill — Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, once cooed to anchor Lark McCarthy that he was a daily viewer, a clip WTTG replayed endlessly in on-air promos. The program now targets a broader audience.

Ms. Morris’ segments increasingly come from the “Today” playbook. In February, she planned a wedding; last month she hit the road for “Good Golly, Where’s Holly?” a series similar to Matt Lauer’s “Today” travel segments.

Ms. Morris is married to WTTG’s morning weatherman, Tom Sater. The Midwestern natives came to WTTG in December 1998 after working together at the CBS affiliate in Lexington, Ky.

Ms. Morris was originally a free-lancer, but WTTG signed her to a contract after her daily segments took off. “I think people saw me as the free-lance wife who just came along,” she said.

Television news is a brutal business, but Mr. Sater and Ms. Morris, who live in Rockville, say working together isn’t tough. When he’s in the studio, she’s in the field.

These days, Ms. Morris finds herself working without a contract again. She prefers the security of a written deal, but she said she doesn’t worry about the future.

Ms. Morris graduated from Duke University in 1993 with a degree in civil and environmental engineering. One of her college papers was titled “All Blondes Aren’t Dizzy.”

“I may be silly on TV, but I’m not dumb. If I ever get tired of getting up at 3 a.m., I could go build dams for a living,” she said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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