Mark Lawson, Brian Heap and Kara Sewell team up for the city's top A.M. show.
It’s not always easy to tell when the camera is running on the set of KWCH’s Eyewitness News This Morning. Co- anchors Kara Sewell and Brian Heap and Weatherman Mark Larson swap stories, tease each other and generally seem to enjoy each other’s company during breaks as much as they’re paid to do on air.
“I’ve babysat his girls before,” Sewell said, referring to Heap’s two young daughters. “I think that makes us pretty good friends.”
Together since June, the trio recently saw their show’s ratings rise to the top of the market for its time slot. Of course, it took more than good rapport among the hosts for that to happen.
The show is built around informing people of what’s happened since they turned in the night before. “Our approach is ‘New, Now, Next,’” Sewell said. “That’s what we’re going for.”
"We're pretty sarcastic with each other. We get lots of comments from viewers and my favorites are when somebody says 'You made me laugh.'" — Brian Heap
Those laptops with the Eyewitness News logo that sit in front of Heap and Sewell aren’t just for show. When not reading scripted material, the two are constantly scanning the Internet for the latest tidbit of information that they think viewers will appreciate, with stories about cute animals and celebrities perhaps leading the list.
“It’s been trending all over Twitter this morning!” Sewell exclaims after a segment about a “Labalion,” or Labrador retriever groomed to resemble a lion. “It’s real!” After a photograph of the increasingly large French actor Gerard Depardieu appears on screen, Heap jokes, “This guy looks like he ate Gerard Depardieu — what happened?”
Local, and variety, seem to be the other key words. Most days see three or four guests come on the set to comment on the news or plug upcoming events. On a recent morning, Wichita lawyer Charlie O’Hara fielded legal questions from viewers and a representative from the Tallgrass Film Festival talked about a local movie script competition.
Sometimes, however, the usual routine goes out the window, as when news of the Aurora, Colo. shootings broke last summer. “It was just obvious that was going to be the only thing worth talking about that day,” Heap said.
That’s when the team’s news experience comes into play. Heap won Associated Press broadcasting awards in El Paso and Memphis before coming to KWCH. In 2005, Sewell graduated from college in Texas and has been working in TV ever since. She also has AP awards to her name for outstanding reporting.
Larson, meanwhile, has been the station’s morning Meteorologist for 15 years, after a career that started in Fargo, N.D. He’s the first one to the station every day, arriving about 2:30 a.m. to monitor the weather. “That’s the one thing people are watching for in the morning,” Sewell said.
The show is actually two segments in one. It runs from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. on KWCH Channel, then switches to KSCW Channel 33 from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. The latter segment is the only all-local TV show during that time period.
Not surprisingly, there have been a few bumps along the road. There was the morning the station’s computers crashed, for instance, and Heap found himself looking for news updates on his smartphone. Sewell said she can’t recall how many times she has tripped over camera cables while maneuvering around the station’s various sets.
The trio have managed to win the respect of behind-the-scenes talent at the station, not always an easy feat in the TV business. Producer Jennifer Montenegreo says they’re just what they appear to be. She mentions Kara’s fun “fashionista” side and the photos she often posts of her latest shoe purchases. The team regularly posts behind-the-scene photos to Facebook to share a different side of themselves with their audience.
According to Sewell, it’s all part of connecting with viewers. “We’re trying to be different, get out of the box of what morning TV has always been.”