Good thing Lark McCarthy, as befits her name, is a morning person. Not everyone can roll out early enough to anchor an ambitious, 2 1/2-hour newscast that begins at 6:30 a.m. weekdays.

That's nothing, of course, to the producers and writers for WTTG's "Fox Morning News," premiering tomorrow, who will show up as early as 1 a.m.

They'll be hustling to give Five's new local (despite its name) news package what general manager Tom Herwitz calls "a harder journalistic edge," trying to cut into the national morning shows that he thinks are "increasingly soft and fluffy."

Executive producer Steven Borden said "Fox Morning News" will concentrate on local news, weather and traffic, national news from a local perspective and interviews with newsmakers. But he also said that during a compelling national event, such as the visit of Nelson Mandela this week, "we'll be all over the story."

All that is fine with Lark McCarthy, who returns to local news broadcasting from Washington bureau jobs at both CBS and ABC but who had never left her base here.

"People used to say, 'Didn't you used to be on television?' It's funny, even at the White House, when they see you signing off from somewhere else, a lot of people thought I'd moved away. So in some ways, it is like coming back," she said.

Taking a job that revolves around one program, however long, will make life easier for McCarthy, a single mother, and give her more air-time for those viewers who miss her from the days at Channel 7.

McCarthy made her mark here over six years at Channel 7. A Chicagoan, she had come to town as a 21-year-old graduate student from Northwestern University working as an on-air intern for a Detroit radio station. It was spring 1976, during the nation's bicentennial celebration, and a grand time to be in the Nation's Capital.

"Everyone had said, 'You'll never get a job to start in Washington,'" recalled McCarthy. "I had resume's out in smaller towns, but I heard that Channel 7 was looking for a writer and I thought, 'Well, I have nothing to lose,' so I went for an interview. Mind you, I'm still in graduate school at that point. But I had lots of radio scripts to show and whatever TV projects I had done back on campus."

News director Sam Zelman interviewed McCarthy and offered her a writing job. "And I said, 'That's nice, but I want to go on the air eventually.' Later he said to me, 'I thought you had a lot of chutzpah to come in here out of graduate school and say that what I want is to be on the air.' But he promised me that if I took the writing job he'd give me an on-air tryout, and he kept his word."

Not long afterward, McCarthy was doing local news cut-ins at 7:25 and 8:25 a.m. for ABC's "Good Morning America."

"You did it with no prompter, no producer -- you just did it yourself," she recalled. "So you see, I can't get away from morning television."

McCarthy wrote for Seven's noon and dinnertime news shows, then "begged producers to let me do stories on the air, and they would sometimes, but then it would mean even longer days. Finally I said, 'Sam, I really do want to report.' And he said, 'If you stay here long enough, eventually you'll get to do that fulltime.'"

But McCarthy decided not to wait that long. She found a fulltime job at WPOG, the ABC affiliate in Miami. When she sent a tape of her work back to producers at Seven, "they called me up and offered me a job, so I came back in '78. So I've worked here just about all my adult life."

In 1983, McCarthy went to work on CBS' "Nightwatch" and covered other network assignments, but two years later she and more than 70 other staffers fell to CBS News' budget-cutting axe.

"When I got home that day after being fired from CBS, the first person I heard from was George Watson, the bureau chief at ABC, and he said he'd like to talk to me," recalled McCarthy. "And I said, 'Would I ever like to talk to you!'"

At ABC News, she helped cover Ronald Reagan's last year and George Bush's first. She was officially named a White House correspondent in February 1989, but veterans Brit Hume and veteran Ann Compton often got more airtime, and when WTTG's Herwitz called her at the ABC desk at the White House, McCarthy found the offer appealing. ABC let her out of the final year of her contract.

"They gave me a little goodbye luncheon at ABC," said McCarthy, "and {"Good Morning America" anchor} Charlie Gibson came up to me and said, 'None of this good luck stuff! You're taking food out of my kids' mouth.'"

That, of course, is exactly what "Fox Morning News" plans to do in the Washington market -- cut into the networks' morning shows. Herwitz said he had been planning a local morning news program since he was named general manager last year. But he and Borden said WTTG's "Fox Morning News," despite the title, is not a prototype for a national Fox network entry in the morning news derby.

"When I came to the station, we looked at what needed some changes," Herwitz said. "We felt what we could best do is expand the news into the morning hours. The fact is that my competitors here flip a switch and take whatever New York sends down to them. We think there's a place for someone who's designing a show locally, tailored to the Washington market."

He and Borden, 33, paired McCarthy, 35, with Tim White, 41, a Michigander who began his career in radio, worked for the United States Information Service and for WCVB in Boston and WJZ in Baltimore. For four years he anchored WorldNet, a daily worldwide news and public affairs broadcast. His most recent assignment was substitute anchor of CBS' "Nightwatch." A graduate of Michigan State and the University of Southern California, he is working on his doctorate at the University of Maryland.

They added 44 hires to Fox's news staff, which up to now has worked on only one show -- the Monday-through-Saturday "Ten O'Clock News." On-air talent will include weatherperson Dave Bender, most recently at KNBC in Los Angeles and earlier at KNSD in San Diego, and a traffic reporter unsigned 10 days ago.

Borden, who came to Five from KCBS in Los Angeles and Fox-owned WFLD in Chicago, plans to give his news program "a contemporary look. It's going to be clean and crisp, and we're going to do some things with traffic that aren't being done in this market, such as using this computer to see where the tie-ups are and what the alternative routes are."

The set features an S-shaped anchor booth, half for the on-air anchor, the other half set up as a semicircular interview area. Behind it are staffers' desks and a row of wall-mounted television screens.

"I think Lark and Tim will feel pretty comfortable on the set," said Borden, "It's a news set, not a couch and a living room, not a fluffy morning show. But it's not a purely traditional news set that you'd see on a 10 or 11 o'clock broadcast."

Borden said that producers and writers will arrive at WTTG's studios on Wisconsin Avenue as early as 1 a.m., with the anchors arriving about 5 a.m. "Lark and Tim are going to be involved on a journalistic level," he said. "They want to be in in time to make suggestions and rework any copy they want to rework and put their signatures on it. Their desire, as much as ours, is to be fully involved."

In Borden's view, much of what becomes national news for the rest of the country is local news in Washington.

"The business of Washington, D.C., is government and politics," Borden said. "There are all of the people involved on a primary and secondary level -- the attorneys, the journalists. But then you have people out in Gaithersburg who have really nothing to do with it. The challenge will be to reach both groups. We're confident that there's an intersection of information that is of mutual interest."

"At least I've had some training for this," said McCarthy. "'Nightwatch' ran from 2 to 6 -- 2 to 4 live each morning -- and we were doing updates as warranted. If we had to update for the West Coast, I'd work from 2 to 9 because I was doing the news on the half hour."

McCarthy, who spent the last two years with other White House reporters chasing after the president at the White House, Kennebunkport and most recently Camp David, during Bush's visit with Mikhail Gorbachev, is looking forward to "people who come to the set and who have agreed to talk to me. I'll be so grateful that I won't be yelling at people. That will be a nice change. I'm looking forward to that."

She's also looking forward to reporting occasionally. "That's where you have the most fun, when you get out and see things. It's hard sometimes. You don't want to put your anchors in a situation where they're exhausted from being out in the field. We'll have to see how this shakes down, see what the demands are."

She may also turn up on the 10 o'clock news as well if, for example, she expands an interview she's done in the morning.

Having worked in Washington for 13 of the last 14 years, McCarthy believes "there's an audience for news in this town. We want to do a credible news broadcast, to keep it with as hard an edge as possible. We also want to have fun, and hope that people will find it a pleasant place to tune in. We hope to give them hard news, but also in a comfortable environment.

"There are things that happened the night before that are still fresh to a lot of people. We're counting on the fact that a lot of people will not have seen the {late evening} news ... But you don't just want to tell people how many traffic accidents there are. That will not be what we're going to do. We'll have a mix of national, international and local news, but we'll have the advantage with whatever we think is driving the news that morning."

For Lark McCarthy, the move to WTTG will not only give her more TV air time, but also more private time with her 3-year-old daughter, Sky Margaret Melodie Williams. A single mother, she has had to balance her travels as White House correspondent with her role as mother. McCarthy is divorced from Sky's father, James Williams, who teaches mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. WRC reporter Barbara Harrison is the child's godmother.

Named after Lark's sister Melodie and her paternal grandmother, Margaret, 3-year-old Sky attends nursery school. A veteran traveler, she has been carted around the country by her nanny to meet her mother, who was breast-feeding her, at longer stops on George Bush's travels. She has visited the White House and, as McCarthy said, "done Kennebunkport."

"My strategy from the very beginning, just so I wouldn't be overwhelmed, was to take it just one day at a time, or a trip at a time, or a week at a time," said McCarthy. "I would set what I thought would be manageable goals. When I came back from maternity leave, they had told me that they wanted me to sort of fill in at the White House while doing other assignments. Shortly after that, Ken Walker left and they said, 'We're just going to put you over there {fulltime} temporarily,' and that turned into a year. And I thought, how am I going to do this?

"Sometimes, especially because I hadn't been named {White House correspondent} at first, it was easier to say, 'I don't want to do this.' I didn't travel until she was 8 months old. I wanted to get past that period, because a lot of people say that's an important psychological period. Then, I would try to take time off after a trip.

"You have to make choices. When Reagan went to Moscow, I went to the bureau chief and said, 'I just can't do this.' I wanted to go to Moscow ever since I was in college, but it just wasn't the time in my life to go. I know I'll see it some other time. I can either do it personally or there'll be another opportunity. Who knows? Maybe we'll take the 'Fox Morning News' to Moscow.

"It was a juggle, but it really did work. I can remember thinking, 'How am I going to make this work?' But it did."

McCarthy believes life will be a bit easier with a regular schedule at WTTG.

"Obviously, I'll be coming to a situation of more air time, so it's nice that I'll have more time with my child as well as more air time. I don't try to encourage a lot of television watching, but I'll probably let her watch so she can understand why I'm not there for breakfast.

"That's the one thing that I hesitated about this job, but then I thought about the times I wasn't there for breakfast or dinner. Then I thought, a regular schedule is more important. I heard Jane Pauley talk about that. Fortunately, she was in a job that gave her a certain flexibility. If your primary responsibility is to one program, you can schedule meetings around that program, do your research at home. I'm hoping that once we're on the air, it won't mean that I'll be there from 4 a.m. to 10 at night. I've done that.

"But I'm excited about doing local television. That's one of the reasons this job was very attractive to me. It would give me more time with my daughter. I'm really looking forward to that. This comes at just sort of the right time."

McCarthy finished her iced tea and chicken quesidilla at The Pleasant Peasant in Bethesda and paused to reflect. She's pleased that WTTG's studio is convenient to her home in Northwest and that there's an exercise studio four blocks away.

"I was thinking, what's changed since I first went on the air in Washington? What are people getting? I'm older, but I also hope wiser. I have seen more of the world, seen much of this country. But I still very much have an appreciation for Washington. When you have seen some of the world, you can appreciate this country and a lot of things that we have. What a beautiful city this is.

"Some sights that I've seen and some of the memories that still stick in my mind are things that happened here -- the Fourth of July fireworks at the monument, the White House at Christmas time. I had just started {at Channel 7} during the Bicentennial. It was terribly exciting to come here then. Even when I think of some of the most beautiful, most interesting things, some of them are things that have happened here. I still think this is a great city.

"So they're getting someone who's traveled more, who has more experience. I've been through some things in life and in career, some ups and downs, but I'm still as eager as I was back then, and I still think there's nothing better than a good story well told. I still get a kick out of doing the news."