CBS Early Show anchor Jane Clayson probably feels like she just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
After serving a low-rated term as cohost to Bryant Gumbel for the past two-and-a-half years, the perky anchor has officially been "reassigned."
For months, the network has been trying to figure out what to do with its a.m. newsmagazine, which ranks a distant third behind NBC's Today show and ABC's Good Morning America. Gumbel exited the show in May when his contract expired.
Now, Clayson has been bumped from the program and relegated to a correspondent position for CBS' Evening News. Her last Early Show appearance will come on September 27.
"Jane has helped make The Early Show a credible and competitive entry in morning television," CBS News president Andrew Heyward gamely told Daily Variety. "She joins the Evening News as a fast-rising name."
The move clears the way for CBS to attempt to revive what has turned out to be a $30-million failure with a brand-new team. Since Gumbel's departure, Clayson has been testing cohosts à la Regis Philbin's post-Kathie Lee search. A growing buzz has surrounded several potential replacement candidates, including Harry Smith of A&E's Biography, former Today host Deborah Norville, Hannah Storm of NBC Sports and Tom Bergeron, host of Hollywood Squares.
Network officials are keeping mum for now on potential new anchors.
But when it comes to making the choice, both Norville and Smith do have experience in the morning show milieu. Back in the pre-Early Show days, Smith helmed CBS' morning magazine, opposite Kathleen Sullivan then Paula Zahn. (That version of the program, which ran from 1987 to 1996, also was firmly entrenched at number 3 in the Nielsens). His one-week Early Show stint last month, however, produced the show's highest ratings in a year and prompted thousands of letters and emails from viewers requesting his return.
Norville was NBC's much-beleaguered Today replacement for Jane Pauley in 1990. Norville quickly left the program after months enduring viewer fury for being hired to be a younger, blonder and prettier version of a longtime favorite. (She was eventually replaced by Katie Couric.) Most recently, Norville has found success as the host of Inside Edition and was also a popular summer cohost on CBS.
Meanwhile, longtime weatherman Mark McEwen, a survivor of the various CBS morning-show formats for more than 15 years, will also be history with the shake-up. He and the network have agreed to part company, although he might do other CBS News shows in the future. No word on his replacement or his departure date, but his contract ends in October.
CBS' quest for morning glory has fizzled since its Gumbel-fied attempt to crack into the lucrative morning show market. The network dropped a sizeable chunk of cash to get the show off the ground, including nearly $20 million to build a brand-new Fifth Avenue studio and millions of dollars in salary to bring Gumbel, a longtime Today show host on NBC, back to morning television. The network also poured a boatload of cash into promoting the Gumbel-Clayson team.
But since Gumbel's departure, Clayson's position has been tenuous at best. The notoriously cranky Gumbel was her biggest supporter, and since he left, CBS execs have failed to rally around her.
It's not all bad for Clayson, though: At least she won't be needing those pre-dawn wake-up calls anymore.