NEW YORK - 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 today.
"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 around 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 they haven't stuck. They keep trying because success in morning television is like buying a cash cow; NBC's "Today" show announced last week that it is milking theirs to the extent of 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 air local news and information programming from 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 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 solid team
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.
Fox believes the show has a fighting chance because the morning shows on many of its stations are doing particularly well in the ratings.