With Bryant Gumbel long gone, Jane Clayson reassigned and Nielsens still lagging behind its a.m. rivals, the Eyeball unveiled its new and (hopefully) improved Early Show on Monday.
The network had gone back to the drawing board to revive the moribund breakfast cast and came up with a breezier format featuring a quartet of hosts: former CBS anchor Harry Smith, NBC Sports fixture Hannah Storm, current Early Show news reader Julie Chen and a newbie--Rene Syler, a local anchor from Dallas.
The new team was announced by CBS News boss Andrew Heyward, whose vision for the retooled show sounds a lot like the coffee-friendly format championed by ABC's The View, but network planners bristle at such comparisons.
"First and foremost, the new Early Show is a news program so we'll continue to provide viewers with the stories and issues of the day, as well as local weather and news," says Heyward. "But our anchors will also give viewers a more spontaneous broadcast with four distinct personalities adding their own interests to the mix. The result will be a lively, unconventional and engaging program."
The four anchors will take turns reporting the top stories of the day, conducting interviews, emceeing feature stories and, of course, chatting it up on the air.
"In addition to being free from the conventional format of anchors simply alternating stories for two hours, when news warrants, our anchors won't be chained to the studio," explains Michael Bass, the show's senior executive producer. "We'll showcase their diverse strengths and interests and give viewers a distinctive alternative in the morning."
This will be a homecoming of sorts for Smith, 51, who's been headlining A&E's Biography series since 1999, but before that was employed at CBS for 13 years as an anchor, correspondent and contributor to various shows, including CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. He also served as cohost for CBS This Morning between 1987 and 1996.
The 40-year-old Storm shot to fame as an anchor and reporter over at NBC Sports, where she's worked for the last 10 years, becoming the first female to solo anchor a national sports package when she covered the NBA championships and Major League Baseball, including three World Series.
Chen, 32 is perhaps best known to viewers at home as the anchor of CBS Morning News and the overseer of the Eyeball's Big Brother.
The 39-year-old Syler, meanwhile, hails from CBS' Dallas affiliate KTVT, where she anchored the noon and six o'clock broadcasts.
CBS had tried to liven up its morning show three years ago, paying big bucks to sign former Today host Bryant Gumbel as anchor and spending $30 million to build a brand-new glass-paneled studio along Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. Then, following a highly publicized search for a coanchor dubbed "Operation Glass Slipper," producers paired him with former ABC News correspondent Clayson, with the goal of finally cracking the lucrative morning market.
Instead, the chemistry experiment failed, and ratings plummeted dropped to levels below that of the show it replaced, CBS This Morning. Gumbel exited the show in May when his contract expired and executives set about finding a new partner for Clayson, pairing her with various guest hosts before finally seeking her ouster.
The constant shuffling also caused consternation among local affiliates, who have favored dropping the national chatfest in favor of their own local morning show.
As opposed to 1999, when the network hyped Gumbel's hiring as the antidote to depressed ratings and a third-place finish, this time around, executives are hoping to avoid setting the bar too high, preferring to let the new anchors do the talking.
Over the last three years, The Early Show has been in the ratings dungeon, far behind NBC's top-rated Today and ABC's second place Good Morning America, which last week averaged 5.7 million and 4.6 million viewers, respectively.
The new Early show anchored by Smith and company is set to debut October 28.
In related news, with the Diane Sawyer-Charlie Gibson-anchored GMA rising fast in the ratings, NBC higher-ups have forced out Today executive producer Jonathan Wald after only 16 months on the job.
The move reportedly came as a result of tensions on the set between Wald and anchors Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, who among other things were unhappy that he failed to book the nine Pennsylvania coal miners rescued in July, letting GMA grab them instead.