NEW YORK - Julie Chen had an overnight bag packed but no idea she'd be headed to Paris shortly after "The Early Show" went off the air Thursday.
CBS' morning show is sending its personalities on mystery trips over the next month, a ratings gimmick with a fun twist. The five on-air regulars were told they could be sent away on any day without advanced warning.
Chen was given an on-air clue about where she was headed: "find the dark among the light; the romance among the haunted; across the ocean you'll find lovers in perfect harmony." The team guessed Paris, confirmed when she was handed a travel guide to the Paris Opera House.
The whole process is a little scary, Chen said. Her only request was not to be sent anywhere on a ship; she didn't think her stomach would be able to handle it.
"I thought if we have to broadcast the next morning, I was concerned about how far it was going to be and how tired I was going to be," she said in an interview en route to the airport.
She'll take a tour of the Paris Opera House and see a "Phantom of the Opera" duet set up for her. Some Halloween surprises are planned for her, too.
Chen said she secretly yearned to go to Paris, a city she loves. She recently mapped out an itinerary of places to eat and visit for a friend visiting the city. But it barely qualifies as a working vacation: she has to do a couple of stories while there and has time for dinner before coming home Saturday morning.
Harry Smith, Maggie Rodriguez, Russ Mitchell and Dave Price will have similar mystery trips coming up.
Travel is always a big part of network morning shows, and executive producer Zev Shalev said his staff tried to brainstorm for something new. These features all stand the risk of being overshadowed by one of the most successful such ideas on TV, the "Where in the World is Matt Lauer" segment on NBC's "Today" show.
That doesn't mean there isn't room for other ideas, Shalev said.
"It's like saying that talent shows are the domain of 'American Idol' or crime shows are the domain of 'CSI,'" he said.