September 22, 2023

CBS Details Its Broad Overhaul of ‘The Early Show’

Pain is evident in the voice of the CBS News chairman, Jeff Fager, when he talks about the ratings performance of “The Early Show,” the network’s long-suffering morning news broadcast.

Distant third in the ratings? That’s “a phrase I hate hearing,” Mr. Fager said Tuesday as he announced another revamping of the network’s morning strategy.

Effective Jan. 9, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose will join the anchor Erica Hill for the 7 a.m. hour, and the talk show host Gayle King will lead the 8 a.m. hour on the broadcast, which will be given a new name and be marketed as a more serious alternative to the popular morning shows on NBC and ABC.

Referring to the success of the CBS network in prime time, Mr. Fager said, “It’s amazing, really, that the No. 1 network in television by far, by far, isn’t doing better” in the mornings.

It has been this way for decades. What’s different this time, Mr. Fager asserted at a news conference on Tuesday, are the people involved, like Mr. Rose, who said he would rely on decades of A-list contacts to book guests, and Ms. King, who said she would ensure that the program be smart and entertaining.

Morning television, Ms. Hill noted, “is very much about who you want to wake up with.”

Chris Licht, the former producer of the MSNBC ensemble “Morning Joe,” will be the executive producer of the program, said David Rhodes, the president of CBS News. Mr. Licht joined CBS in June as the news division’s vice president for programming, and he will retain that role.

Mr. Licht said the program would not imitate its rivals. There will be no cooking segments and no couch on the set. “Where will the weatherman sit? Oh wait,” he said jokingly, since there will be no weatherman. (Local stations are already inserting their own weather segments into the sobered-up “Early Show.”)

Within the television business, there is widespread skepticism about whether a hard news bent will help bring in viewers in the morning.

Mr. Fager, who is also the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” said that while the morning program would emphasize hard news just as that Sunday newsmagazine does, “it’s not going to be all serious.” He said it would cover pop culture as well as political and economic news, describing it as a mixture of what’s important “and sometimes what’s just plain interesting.”

Mr. Rose said he would continue to host his PBS and Bloomberg interview program. But Ms. King will not continue to host her talk show on OWN, the cable channel owned by her best friend, Oprah Winfrey. OWN said Tuesday that Ms. King would “join us from time to time as her schedule allows.”

Mr. Fager would not make predictions about ratings. “It’s been tough in the morning at CBS,” he acknowledged. “A lot of times we replaced people without really re-thinking from the ground up” about the structure of the broadcast.

And this time? After the news conference, he walked with reporters through an old reference library at CBS that is being rebuilt as a newsroom and studio for the newscast. The past, he said, doesn’t matter. “We have an opportunity to start fresh.”

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Media Decoder: CBS Confirms Pelley Will Replace Couric

12:10 p.m. | Updated Scott Pelley, the “60 Minutes” correspondent, will succeed Katie Couric as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” next month — and he will keep working almost full-time on “60 Minutes,” the popular newsmagazine.

Scott Pelley will succeed Katie Couric as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” next month.John Paul Filo/CBS Scott Pelley will succeed Katie Couric as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” next month.

CBS confirmed the anchor shift on Tuesday, capping more than a month of speculation. In turning to Mr. Pelley, CBS is choosing someone who many CBS viewers already know and trust from his time on “60 Minutes.”

The network’s announcement did not mention Ms. Couric or her last day on the job, but it said that Mr. Pelley will start work on Wednesday, June 6.

Mr. Pelley said in an interview that he intended to “bring ‘60 Minutes’ values to the ‘Evening News.’” Essentially, he and Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News and the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” want to take what is working on that newsmagazine and apply it to the ailing nightly newscast. Mr. Pelley described those values as “original reporting, unique insight, and fairness to everyone involved.”

“60 Minutes” is the most-watched weekly news program in America, averaging about 15 million viewers on Sunday nights, while the “Evening News” is the least-watched daily network newscast, averaging about six million viewers on weekdays. Ms. Couric, who took over the newscast with great fanfare in 2006, was unable to stem the stubborn, decades-long decline of the “Evening News” audience size.

Asked if he perceived the “Evening News” to be damaged, Mr. Pelley said no, citing the newscast’s many awards won under Ms. Couric’s tenure and praising the staff of the news organization.

“We’ve got enormous strength,” he said. “What the broadcast needs is a little bit of leadership. The correspondents and producers need to understand that we’re going to be about original reporting and about bringing unique insight into the news, so that we add value for the viewers.”

Mr. Pelley, like the anchors before him going back to Walter Cronkite, will be the managing editor as well as the anchor of the “Evening News.” He suggested that he had aspired to be the anchor for that reason above all.

“The anchoring, at the end of the day, is not very important,” he said. “What matters is the managing editor job. That is: coming in early; working with the producers and the correspondents; figuring out how to cover the news.”

He concluded the interview by saying, “We’re gonna lift this thing, and we’re all going to do it together. Everybody’s shoulder is going to go into this. And that’s the only way it’s possible.”

Mr. Pelley’s comments will likely spawn some sighs of relief inside CBS News, which has been abuzz for months about Ms. Couric’s expected exit. A new anchor represents a fresh start for the broadcast and, indirectly, for the entire news organization.

Mr. Pelley said the plan for him to take over the “Evening News” came together “in the last six weeks or so.” Inside CBS News, Mr. Pelley is perceived to be a favorite of Mr. Fager, who was promoted to chairman of the news division last winter.

In what was perceived as an indication that he wants CBS News to be known for hard news, Mr. Fager tempered some of the network’s comprehensive plans for covering the royal wedding last month. While the royal wedding was taking place, Mr. Pelley was working on a “60 Minutes” segment that took him to Iraq.

While taking over the “Evening News,” he said he will keep his “entire team” at “60 Minutes,” and he said he will have a “very significant number of stories” each season. (Seasons of the newsmagazine start in September and end in May.)

Mr. Pelley currently has as many as 20 “60 Minutes” segments each season — “more than a full-time job,” he quipped. After he becomes the “Evening News” anchor, he said, “I will probably be doing something on the order of 15, maybe one or two less than that.”

He said, “You may ask, as my wife has, ‘How will you pull that off?’ My answer to you is the same as my answer to her: we’ll see.”

He is likely to lean heavily on his producers. He said that when his nightly newscast travels to a breaking news event — say, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan or the shooting in Tucson — some of his “60 Minutes” producers will travel with him, too, scouting for possible Sunday segments.

Asked if viewers will see “60 Minutes” correspondents like Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl on the “Evening News,” Mr. Pelley said that it is a “possibility,” but not a specific plan.

Starting immediately, Mr. Pelley will need to get to know his new staff at the “Evening News.” Although “60 Minutes” is a part of CBS News, it is a very specific part — one that is housed in a building across the street from the rest of the news division. Mr. Pelley said he had barely seen his “Evening News” colleagues since moving over to the newsmagazine about a decade ago.

Mr. Pelley’s salary is unknown, but is is almost certainly lower than Ms. Couric’s salary. She was wooed to CBS with an approximately $15 million-per-year salary, a fact that later stirred some resentment inside the news division when there were staffing cuts.

When Ms. Couric was hired by CBS, regular appearances on “60 Minutes” were written into her contract, but once she arrived at the network, some of her associates say she perceived a chilly reception from some of the staff members on the venerable program. Those associates said that the chilliness seemed to stem from the top — Mr. Fager — but that view was disputed by people close to him, who said that Ms. Couric had praised his stewardship of her segments.

Her associates said her appearances on the show were far fewer than she hoped for — averaging not even five a year. Her contract with CBS News ends on Monday, June 4.

Ms. Couric said in a statement Tuesday, “Scott is a great reporter and a real gentleman who cares deeply about the news. I know he’ll put his own unique imprimatur on the broadcast and will do a great job carrying on the rich tradition of ‘The CBS Evening News.’ ”

Bill Carter contributed reporting.

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