Juliet Huddy can’t stand it any longer. She reaches across a table to wipe dirt off the shirt of TV partner Mike Jerrick, over his left breast.
Jerrick responds by reaching over to Huddy’s shirt. He stops just short, of course.
Chemistry is as important as coffee in the morning, at least on television. Fox is hoping that viewers respond to Huddy and Jerrick’s hyperactive goofiness as the broadcast network launches its own morning show Monday.
“The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet” will air for an hour each day at 9 a.m. At first, it will be seen in about 40 percent of the country, big cities where Fox’s parent News Corp. owns the station.
Fox has tried twice before in the past decade or so to establish a morning show, but neither stuck. They keep trying because success in morning television is like buying a cash cow; NBC’s TODAY show announced last week that it's adding a fourth hour in September.
For Fox, “the time is now,” said Dennis Swanson, president of Fox TV station operations.
Because all 24 of the Fox-owned stations currently air local news and information programming 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., “The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet” is a logical extension, he said.
One day recently Tom Mazzarelli walked a visitor through the construction crew that's building the show’s new set on the ground floor of Fox owner News Corp.’s Manhattan offices. A former member of the TODAY production staff, Mazzarelli jumped at the chance to create a new show from scratch and run it himself.
Tape outlined where 50 or 60 seats will be set aside for a studio audience. Windows will allow pedestrians to peer in, just like at TODAY a short walk away.
Huddy, 37, and Jerrick, 52, radiated nervous energy as they counted down the days to the premiere.
Their camaraderie developed from several years as co-hosts of Fox News Channel’s chatty “Fox & Friends” weekend edition. They met for the first time on the set of “Fox & Friends” in October 2002, 10 minutes before going on the air together.
“The day I met Mike was one of the best professional and personal days in my life,” Huddy said, adding that they have never dated.
They giggle at each other’s jokes, finish each other’s thoughts. They even live near each other in New Jersey. Huddy seemed surprised when Jerrick noted that he could tell when his partner was nervous because of a certain pattern to her breathing.
“They’ve been doing (television hosting) for a while, and they genuinely like each other, which is nice,” Mazzarelli said.
Jerrick has been host of entertainment-oriented programs on HBO and Sci-Fi and was a co-anchor of the morning show “Good Day Philadelphia.” He said he’s always sought to be somewhere between Johnny Carson and David Hartman.
Huddy worked as a local news anchor, reporter and producer before landing at Fox News Channel as a Miami-based correspondent in 1998.
“All through my career I’ve always done news,” she said. “But I always felt there was something off, that it wasn’t quite what I should be doing.”
Fox believes the show has a fighting chance because the morning shows on many of its stations are doing particularly well in the ratings. Looking to establish a connection with those shows in the minds of viewers, Huddy and Jerrick have traveled across the country to tape chummy segments with the local personalities.
Fox is seeking to expand its imprint of informational shows, the same reason it began a syndicated news show with Geraldo Rivera last year. The plug was recently pulled on Rivera’s show due to low ratings.
The strategy also falls in line with what more advertisers are looking for. With more women working, the traditional daytime soap operas are suffering.
Most of the Fox affiliated stations are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the show. In many cases, they are contractually committed to airing other shows in the time slot until the end of the season and want to see if “The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet” succeeds.
Their show won’t be news, but Mazzarelli said it will be topical. Huddy and Jerrick will open each show talking about what’s going on in the world, whether it’s something serious or the latest Paris Hilton escapade.
Sound familiar, Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa?
Mazzarelli promises a faster-paced program than those established veterans. He’s hoping to sometimes feed off the news, citing a recent story about a couple trapped in their car in the wilderness. “The Morning Show” might do a segment on what people need to keep in their car, “and not just say, hey, let’s do a grilling segment,” he said.
There’s entertainment too. In a neat bit of corporate synergy, rock singer Chris Daughtry from Fox’s “American Idol” is a scheduled guest for Monday’s first show.
Despite all of the competition, Fox won’t be put off by a crowd.
Ten years ago when Fox News Channel was launched, critics openly wondered whether there was any room for a cable news network not named CNN, Mazzarelli said.
“Fox overall has a history of looking at a landscape, and where some may see it as cluttered, they see an opportunity,” he said.