I have a not-so-scandalous confession to make: I don’t watch a lot of TV. Not in an “I don’t even own a TV” kind of way, but more in an “Eh, I watch a few shows on Netflix and that’s about it” kind of way. On top of that, I tend to avoid local TV at all costs. I love and care about Milwaukee, but I simply can’t subject myself to Milwaukee TV news, which often seems like 15 minutes of unnecessarily detailed weather reports (just tell us if it’s going to be nice tomorrow!) sandwiched between 15 minutes of horror stories. I respect local newscasters (solemn nod to Ted Perry) and I understand the unfortunate “if it bleeds it leads” mentality, but who needs to wait until 10 p.m. to hear about some bad (or even good) Milwaukee news? I read about it online and that’s about it.
Which brings me to The Morning Blend, a show that, on the surface, is most definitely not for me. One, it’s TV; two, it’s local TV; and three, it’s on in the morning. (Some might also say its geared toward women, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) Still, it’s a show that fascinates me. Since 2006, the Blend has served as WTMJ’s answer to Full House’s Wake Up, San Francisco, with hosts Tiffany Ogle (who joined in 2009) and Molly Fay assuming the roles of an even-perkier Rebecca Katsopolis and a distaff Danny Tanner, respectively. It’s an incredibly popular show, and its “morning-chat-show-crossed-with-daytime-infomercial” format has made it a lucrative model for similar shows nationwide. Go figure that one of Milwaukee’s most popular modern exports is a TV show that spends an inordinate amount of time gushing over baby pictures and walking through sponsored segments about just how easy it is for young couples to purchase their first homes using Equitable Bank.
So, following a few brutal weeks of depressing Milwaukee news, I was in a funk. I needed something to restore my faith in Brew City humanity, lest I consider taking a sightseeing trip to, I don’t know, Scobey, Montana, and never coming back. Could The Morning Blend be the shot of over-caffeinated cheer I needed? Could it lift my Milwaukee spirits, change my mind about local TV, and perhaps tell me about the many exciting features of the Mosquito Magnet Commander, available now from the Woodstream Corporation? I watched a week of the show to find out.
Monday: “It’s a great time to shine!”
The first thing to hit you on The Morning Blend is its theme song, which is pretty much what you’d expect: “It’s a greeeeaaaat day / So make it everything you want it to be / It’s yours and it’s mine / It’s a great day to shiiiiiine.” It’s like a daily affirmation desktop calendar on three pots of coffee, two mimosas, and one bottle of GLeeMONEX from that Kids In The Hall movie.
The second and third things to hit you are the hosts: Ogle, a former Miss Minnesota, is impossibly cheery and prone to making googly eyes at the dreamy EMTs that show up for occasional sponsored segments; Fay, a former news anchor and a mother of three, is good for a few “Am I right, ladies?” jokes and is the proud owner of a wicked Sconnie accent. Together, they’re an unstoppable, upbeat force to be reckoned with. They are also really, really good at their jobs. You know that weird moment at the end of the nightly local news when everyone tries to make small talk and it comes off incredibly awkward and stiff? There’s none of that on The Morning Blend. Ogle and Fay are pros, and they have a natural and unforced chemistry that makes the prospect of spending five hours a week with them much more appealing than, say, a week’s worth of Maury episodes where everyone is terrified of mustard of whatever.
So, on to my Week of Blend!
Monday’s show kicks off with some talk about an article on millennials not wanting to keep their parents’ stuff after those parents die. It seems like a grim topic for a morning chat show, but, you know, millennials. “They want to live more clutter-free!” the ladies opine. “The only thing they probably want [that old stuff] for is Throwback Thursday photos!” This leads to a “Sound Off!” question about what you plan to do with your dead parents’ shit, and a plug for In Style magazine for some reason.
Before going to commercial, the show teases a strange, shrouded shape lurking on the side of the set. “Coming up, we’ll show you what’s under the drape!” The mind reels.
The first guests are a DNR conservation warden and a DNR wildlife biologist. They remind viewers that it’s a bad idea to mess around with baby bunnies, birds, or foxes, because they’re not pets and they’ll probably die. It’s good advice, but, like so many Morning Blend segments, so, so random. “Mother turtles go off on their own,” the wildlife biologist explains. “Good for her!” Fay laughs.
Back from another commercial, and the thing under the drape is revealed to be…a Mosquito Magnet Commander! Thus commences The Morning Blend’s first sponsored segment of the week, this one paid for by the Woodstream Corporation. So yeah, it’s essentially a 10-minute commercial for a propane-fueled mosquito-repelling thing. Ogle and Fay spend the entire segment grilling their “guest” about the product’s many exciting features. (It’s quiet! It runs 24/7! It covers an entire acre!) Are the show’s sponsored spots really all that different from “sponsored content” on the web? Not really. Is a softball interview about baby bunnies any more compelling than a paid softball interview about a tricked-out mosquito zapper? Nope. More importantly, do you know how hard it is to fill five hours of live television a week? “This would make a great Mother’s Day gift!” Fay beams, which is kind of pushing it.
Next are a series of segments that are either sponsored or not—again, it’s hard to tell. A member of the Milwaukee Riverkeepers talks about the group’s big spring cleanup. (Fay: “Bring your waders if you got ’em!”) Ogle talks about a recent simulation she participated in with Bell Ambulances. (“I just wanted to meet cute paramedics!”) Two construction dudes talk about a program that builds mortgage-free homes for disabled military veterans. Then it’s time for some answers about dead-parent junk, and a quick “Have a great day everyone!” and “See you tomorrow!”
Tuesday: “If you build it, they will meow!”
I’m watching my 8-month-old daughter for the day, so I decide to take in Tuesday’s Blend the way God intended: distracted while wrangling a baby. Which brings us to an interesting question: Who is The Morning Blend really for? Morning-chat-show-logic says “women,” but beyond being hosted by two women and airing at an hour once thought of as “stay-at-home-mom” time, there’s nothing overtly gender-specific going on here. A few weight-loss segments, sure, but those just come with the territory. “Coming up, luxury living…for cats!” the ladies say before the first commercial break. See? Everyone likes cats!
Anyway, back from commercial, Ogle talks about hosting the big Bucks logo-reveal at the BMO Harris Bradley Center the night before. You know, the one where three artists slowly…slowly…slowly painted what turned out to be three really cool new logos. As for Ogle, the story is a nice reminder of her strange, wonderfully bizarre job: TV host, local personality, occasional presenter and host of various things. She’s like the Tom Bergeron of the Midwest, except more likely to look sharp in a blue-and-white checkered De Stijl dress.
Milwaukee Day gets a shout-out next, with Ogle lighting up as she mentions the Hugh Bob show at Turner Hall. (“It’s exciting!”) Then it’s on to an incredibly random conversation about “dismissing toxic people from your life,” which Fay illustrates by sharing a story about “breaking up” with a friend in high school. Today’s Art’s Camera Plus Picture of the Day is a photo of two babies looking at each other (Fay: “They’re so lovey-dovey!”) and the first guest is a nervous-looking girl who ran a marathon or something for the Humane Society. Now there’s a picture of a puppy and…
I don’t know, the baby’s crying and it’s hard to concentrate, even though these segments are so long. What if the real news spent this kind of time on a single story? Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t we have a better-informed, more compassionate citizenry? Wouldn’t Milwaukee benefit from more in-depth, nuanced investigations as opposed to 20-second scare stories? What if…ah, fuck. This baby won’t stop crying and I really need to give her a bath. I tap out during a bit about jungle gyms for cats, sponsored by Kitty City.
Wednesday: “Black Friday in spring? Huh?!”
Ogle and Fay have been on top of their game this week, keeping every segment—sponsored or unsponsored—moving along at an easy, natural clip. It’s good, unobtrusive television. But even their formidable powers can’t save Wednesday’s endless opening chat with three coaches about ways parents can raise good athletes and good students. So many sports clichés, so much time. Slightly better is a paid spot from The Machine Shed, which finds chef and frequent guest Kurt Wagner cooking up some Chicken and Broccoli Pasta Diablo. “Diablo actually means ‘devil,’” Wagner helpfully explains. “Oh!” Ogle and Fay reply.
Thursday: “I’m a lot to handle, Molly Fay, I’m a lot to handle.”
Give The Morning Blend credit where credit is due: Amidst the flagrant infotainment and cute doggy pictures, the show occasionally scores some legitimately interesting guests. Thursday’s show has two. First up is Wauwatosa author Philip F. DiMeo, whose book, Binoculars: Masquerading As A Sighted Person, details the crazy lengths he went to in order to conceal his blindness. It’s a fascinating—if weird—interview, and the lightness of the show coupled with Ogle and Fay’s charmingly odd queries (“Is it depressing to lose your sight?”) take the edge of what could be a heavy subject. DiMeo—who coaches co-ed softball at Kelly’s Bleachers—even gets in a semi-leering joke when asked about his guide dog. “I usually let the ladies pet her, but not the guys.”
Three sponsored spots are up next—Equitable Bank, some home-furnishing place in Brookfield, maybe something to do with pets—before the ladies sit down with another author, Nickolas Butler. Raised in Eau Claire, the heavily bearded Butler talks a bit about his latest (well-reviewed) novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, which concerns Wisconsin 30-somethings dealing with Wisconsin 30-something problems. He also reveals that former classmate Justin Vernon inspired the book’s hometown-boy-made-good musician character. “What group is he with?” The Morning Blend asks.
Finally, the fourth sponsored segment of the day is something about rappelling down the side of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center in order to combat childhood drug addiction. Or something. Ogle and Fay look way skeptical throughout, and seem confused as to what lowering yourself down a 20-story building has to do with helping drug-addled teens. Happily, it leads to the most unintentionally hilarious exchange of the week:
Guest: “We have a one-hundred-percent success rate…”
Fay: “Meaning no deaths?”
Friday: “I love your pineapples!”
What the fuck is this? Molly is out for the day? And Monday? Who the hell is Holley Sinn? Why is she sitting in for Molly? Why does she have so many extra consonants in her name? This is not The Morning Blend I’ve come to love. Anyway, Sinn repeatedly reminds viewers that she’s “new to the area,” and manages to squeeze in a story about how she went to college with Olivia Munn. (“Her name is not really Olivia!”)
Now it’s time for “Movie Reviews with Ryan Jay.” The dapperly dressed Jay gives social media horror film Unfriended a middling “Rent It” rating, and admits he walked out of the critically acclaimed Salt Of The Earth because it was like a “boring slideshow.” “I love your pineapples!” he says about Ogle’s blouse.
The rest of the show, half-watched while I sort laundry: something about tax-free diamonds; a contest where you can dance with Donald Driver; a high school production of West Side Story; new windows for spring; “Everyone’s weight loss journey is different”; “Have a great weekend everyone!”
So what did I learn? Not much, other than the facts that Ogle and Fay are charming hosts and that you can pay to promote almost anything on the show. Would I watch The Morning Blend on a regular basis? Probably not. Did a week’s worth of sponsored ads and feather-light conversation jolt me from my Milwaukee funk? Absolutely. Let’s face it: for a certain segment of southeastern Wisconsin—i.e. people who still get their news from TV—television is one of their only windows to life in Milwaukee, and that window tends to display only the very worst aspects of the city. It’s unfortunate, but it’s how it goes. The Morning Blend—and shows like it—may be the antithesis of news, but at least they provide viewers with an alternate view of Milwaukee. In this Milwaukee, everyone is smiling, there’s always something to do, and there is absolutely no shortage of cute baby photos to look at. It’s nice to be reminded that this Milwaukee does, in fact, exist, and that on any given day, it’s a great day for the city to shine.
Barring that, the show can get you a sweet deal on that Mosquito Magnet. Just go to MosquitoMagnet.com and enter the promo code “CommanderTV1” for $100 off your next purchase.