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Is the morning news format that fuels Mike Jerrick's 'weird uncle' shtick on its way out?

Does that format have staying power in an age when men in high-profile news programs have been accused of sexual misconduct, when treatment of women in the workplace is on most people's minds?

Fox29 Good Day Philadelphia cohost Mike Jerrick was criticized for comments he made on International Women’s Day.  He’s sitting with cohost Alex Holley, left, and anchor/ reporter Karen Hepp, right.
Fox29 Good Day Philadelphia cohost Mike Jerrick was criticized for comments he made on International Women’s Day. He’s sitting with cohost Alex Holley, left, and anchor/ reporter Karen Hepp, right.Read moreScreenshot

It was 9:11 a.m. on International Women's Day when Fox29's Mike Jerrick asked his coanchor: When was the last time she had sex? That was after he'd questioned if she'd ever cheated on her husband and just a few minutes after telling his other cohost that he keeps an action figure of her by his bedside so he can "wake up in the morning, open my eyes, and see you."

The live, on-air comments March 8 landed Jerrick, the longtime Good Day Philadelphia host, in the cross hairs of HBO comedian John Oliver, who blasted him for spending "the entire day acting inappropriately."

Of course, it wasn't just something that happened on International Women's Day. Jerrick has long played what he's called "the weird uncle" alongside a female counterpart. (Fox29 spokeswoman Claudia Russo didn't respond to requests to interview Jerrick.)

Still, experts say it's less of a Jerrick thing and more of a morning show format thing: a familiar, familial vibe created by female and male co-anchors in a freewheeling dynamic that can easily veer into the offensive.

"You're supposed to chat and fill up time and be engaging to your audience, and that can get you in a lot of trouble," said Peter Jaroff, an assistant professor of media studies and production at Temple University and a former 6ABC producer. "He's encouraged in that kind of situation, and not just Mike Jerrick. You'll see it on any local station and networks in the morning."

But does that format have staying power in an age when men in high-profile news programs have been accused of sexual misconduct, when treatment of women in the workplace is on most people's minds?

There have been some lineup changes in the upper echelon of morning shows after hosts Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose were ousted from their networks following allegations of sexual misconduct.

And change could be coming elsewhere, said Ben Bogardus, an assistant professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University. The traditional format of "men who are lighter and jokier and women who are nice and smiley," he said, might not be the wave of the future. Instead, it could be more along the lines of the current CBS' morning show, which has three anchors going for more of a hard news feel, or Today, which for the first time in its history has two female hosts.

Of course, nothing's likely to change — especially with Jerrick, 67 — "because the powers that be think that it works," Bogardus said.

"They're trying to go with a vibe of sitting around with your friends," said Bogardus, who worked as a local TV news producer before settling in academia. "Sometimes there's one friend who makes an off-color joke and everyone laughs because that's just him." (The network didn't respond to a request for comment.)

In the Philadelphia market, Jerrick's Good Day Philadelphia, which he hosts alongside Alex Holley, is something of an anomaly, being the only local show of its kind in the region. NBC goes to Today in the morning, ABC cuts to Good Morning America, and CBS goes to CBS This Morning. CBS3 does air the local Eyewitness News This Morning in the 4:30 to 7 a.m. block, but co-anchors Jim Donovan and Rahel Solomon have a decidedly different, more serious tone than Jerrick and Holley's banter.

Jerrick's shtick has worked with Philadelphia viewers since the late 1990s. His first stint hosting Good Day was from 1999 to 2002, after which he left to work as a weekend cohost for the nationally televised Fox and Friends. He later cohosted Fox's The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet before returning to Good Day Philadelphia in 2009. And he's made plenty of headlines throughout his career, many of which were for comments about women.

While appearing on Fox News in 2010, he joked about cheerleaders "bending over backward" and Lindsay Lohan being spanked. In 2012, Jerrick met Kacie McDonnell — who later became a traffic reporter at Fox29 — on-air, telling her: "You smell good" and "Say hello to your boyfriend." In 2014, he spanked a meteorologist with her own children's book. Earlier this year, after Jerrick was briefly suspended for an explicit comment about White House counsel Kellyanne Conway, the anchor said to Sue Serio in the weather center: "Could you do something so inappropriate sometime today to get me off the hook? Like, flash us right now!"

Jerrick also has drawn attention for behavior that wouldn't be considered sexist, such as when he and his cohost burst into laughter after an interview with Ryan Lochte or made fun of the Kardashians.

"Mike Jerrick definitely embodies the 'jokey guy,'" said Linda Steiner, a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, "with the women who are on the desk with him still having to be both the butt of his jokes and laugh at it."

Morning TV news shows have always had a decidedly lighter touch than the afternoon or evening counterparts. The first host of Today, which first aired in 1952, was Dave Garroway, who specialized in "nutty stunts" and comedy, said Charles Ponce de Leon, a professor of history and American studies at California State University, Long Beach.

Early iterations of Today, which was the first morning show of its kind, were hosted by men but included young women who were there for the purpose of adding a feminine touch. Though Barbara Walters assumed more on-air duties at Today by the 1960s, the women on anchor teams were largely "young and pretty, and were usually paired with older men," Ponce de Leon wrote in his book That's the Way It Is: A History of Television News in America.

According to Steiner, that dynamic hasn't changed much.

"Network executives are still assuming that the audiences for those kinds of shows like the idea of a woman and a man as co-anchors," she said. "That sort of rings true with what they see as the kind of ideal nuclear family."

What has changed over the years is how the anchors interact with each other, and that varies among different personalities and networks. Some networks, Steiner said, are more focused on women's appearance than others.

Other individual female hosts bat back at sexist comments with an eye roll or a visible groan, Steiner said. For example, Holley has waved off Jerrick's behavior, including in one of the clips Oliver used, when she pulled her hand away from Jerrick after he touched her wrist. She frequently utters an aggrieved "Miiiike" when he says something unsavory.

Before scorching Jerrick on his HBO show, Oliver also called out CBS This Morning host John Dickerson — who replaced Rose — for telling coanchor Nora O'Donnell. "I just want to be in your lap," after, on International Women's Day, she mimicked a speaking-to-a-dog voice.

"You know you two are not alone," coanchor Gayle King told him.

Some experts remain unconvinced that the traditional morning show format will change any time soon. Steiner said she worries that even if the dynamic changes, "it doesn't actually, fundamentally change the way that we're seeing very unequal relations between men and women being played out."

Jaroff said for most stations and networks, it comes down to ratings, and morning programs with this type of format have only grown since their inception.

"The raffish quality Mike Jerrick has come to be associated with over the years," he said, is "a selling point for Fox. It's like, 'What is he going to say now?'"