- The Washington Times - Friday, November 23, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) A journalism think tank suggests that network morning shows are as efficient in promoting the products of their parent corporations as they are in providing news.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, in a report studying the content of the ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows, said all of them had become, in part, "a kind of sophisticated infomercial."

Take away the local news inserts and commercials, and one-third of the content on morning shows is essentially selling something: a book, a compact disc, a movie or another television program, the group said.

But people who run the network shows said the think tank's study is simplistic and overlooks the advantages of corporate affiliations.

"They don't know the world of morning television," said Steve Friedman, executive producer of "The Early Show" on CBS. "This is not the evening news."

The corporations that benefit most from the promotion are the ones that own the shows, according to the study.

Twenty-seven percent of the products promoted on "The Early Show" are owned by Viacom, the parent company of CBS, as well as MTV, Paramount Pictures and other media properties.

The Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, was the recipient of 21 percent of the "Good Morning America" promotion, the study said. General Electric is the beneficiary of 12 percent of "Today" show promotion on NBC.

The number is smaller for NBC because GE's holdings are not as heavily concentrated in media as Viacom and Disney. The organization based its figures on content studies during four separate weeks in June and October.

Since the companies are so large, some of this synergy is to be expected, said Amy Mitchell, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

But the shows should do more to tell viewers about corporate ties, which they rarely do except when promoting another show on the same network, she said.

"It's a matter of balance, of being willing to put a little bit of elbow grease into getting stars of something that your company didn't produce," Miss Mitchell said. "Maybe it takes three phone calls instead of one phone call. Maybe you have to call them instead of them calling you."

Morning-show producers said they would be foolish not to take advantage of their access.

For example, "The Early Show" originated from the Super Bowl this year because CBS was broadcasting the game. Similarly, NBC's "Today" show originated from Sydney during the Olympics last year and will do the same for the Winter Games in February.

CBS has taken advantage of its "Survivor" connection by heavily featuring the reality show in the morning. Despite criticism for going overboard, Mr. Friedman said people are interested in the topic.

"Nobody ever pressures me," said Shelley Ross, executive producer of "Good Morning America." "Nobody ever says, 'I need you to do me a favor, I'm begging you.' I go through things and I pick and choose."

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