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October 7, 2015

No Matter What CBS Does, It'll Still Come in Third in the Mornings

by Joel Keller, posted Dec 1st 2010 11:30AM
Jeff Glor, Erica Hill, Chris Wragge and Marysol Castro are the new CBS 'Early Show' teamThe CBS morning news timeslot reminds me of a highway-side retail location that changes tenants every few years. First it's a clothing store, then a sushi restaurant, then a gym, then a pizzeria. All the plans are ambitious, but nothing ever sticks.

So the news that the Eye network is shaking up their 'Early Show' crew, jettisoning Harry Smith, Maggie Rodriguez and Dave Price and installing the team of Chris Wragge, Erica Hill, Jeff Glor and Marysol Castro (the new team is pictured to the right), isn't a huge surprise. In fact, the comments by executive producer David Friedman in the wake of the shake-up make perfect sense: the team that was in place didn't have the same chemistry as the team that they're inserting, especially Wragge and Hill, who have been paired on the Saturday 'Early Show' for a couple of years.

But the Eye Network could have Sarah Palin and Tiger Woods doing the news in the mornings and they'll still come in third place. Not that making changes aren't merited, but it sometimes feels like the folks at Black Rock are doing no more than shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Morning habits are extremely tough to change. You wake up in the morning, groggy and dreading the work day ahead, and you stumble to the radio or TV and turn on the same show you've been turning on for years. There's comfort in that choice, because it's part of a routine that has been fueling your days for years.

CBS has always had an uphill battle in the mornings, given the fact that 'Today' on NBC has been a morning habit for close to sixty years now. But things got especially difficult when ABC debuted 'Good Morning America' in 1975 and it shot to the top of the ratings. So, 35 years later, CBS not only has to contend with one established morning brand, but two. If you count radio stalwarts like Imus and Howard Stern, among others, you can see what CBS has been up against for so long.

That's the reason why, no matter what CBS has tried in that timeslot, ratings have always been miserable. There have been some grand experiments, like the late '80s entertainment-news hybrid 'The Morning Program,' with actress Mariette Hartley and Ron Burgundy prototype Roland Smith hosting. That disaster lasted less than a year. Then, in 1999, CBS tried to recapture the 'Today' magic by forcing Bryant Gumbel back on mornings in the first iteration of 'The Early Show.' The meager ratings tanked and he was gone two-and-a-half years later. Many other formats and anchor teams were tried and abandoned.

So CBS has tried hard news, they've tried a 'Regis and Kathie Lee'-type entertainment-news hybrid, they've had big name anchors and no-name anchors. They've gone with tabloidy stories in recent years, then scaled back to make the show more like its morning competitors. Nothing's worked. But there's so much profit to be had in the mornings, CBS figures they can just plug away, figuring at some point something will hit.

It seems like Friedman has the right perspective, as he told TVNewser: "The more and more news you can use, hopefully it improves the brand, hopefully it increases the ratings and in the process introduce this new team as the team to watch for many years." And the fact that both 'GMA' and 'Today' have been able to keep the chemistry people are drawn to despite major anchor changes on both shows over the last few years speaks to the wisdom of that choice.

There's nothing wrong with Friedman looking to get the show some better ratings. But if he starts shooting for the top, he's going to be in trouble, because it just isn't going to happen.

(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)

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It's amazing how the networks continue to follow the same 7-9 a.m. format (as well as the 6:30 - 7:00 p.m. timeslot [all times EST]). With all the options available now, why do the "big 3" continue to program the exact same shows at the same time?

December 02 2010 at 12:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What they need to do is just put likeable people that tell us the news - not entertainment, not slanted or biased, just NEWS. Call it the MORNING NEWS HOUR or something. Emphasis on the NEWS, of course. I'm so tired of the various channels putting witty banter and politically slanted views on news articles I've started watching TBD.COM - used to be News 8 (DC channel) - it is usualy solid news without any slant. Refreshing.

December 01 2010 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Opinions on CBS changes .... and the demise of the show.
Charlie Smith ... we will see him around forever.
Maggie R. ... thrilled to never see her again.
Price ... too loud and goodbye.
Chris Wragge ... we shall see - needs work.
Erica Hill ... no warmth, personality, professionalism, ... now much.
the rest ... who cares

December 01 2010 at 12:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the cbs morning show has been a ratings disaster for years. They left Bryant Gumbel in the chair for way too many years. in those years cbs news was in a state of denial with gumbel and rather rather than recognizing they both sucked.

December 01 2010 at 12:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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