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Affils weigh in on `Early’

Jun 3, 2002  •  Post A Comment

CBS affiliates are getting a chance to give their input on how to revamp CBS’s struggling “Early Show.”
A CBS affiliate board subcommittee will fly to New York June 19 to meet with “Early Show’s” new executive producer Michael Bass to discuss the direction of the morning show. Mr. Bass took over for Steve Friedman, who departed the show along with co-anchor Bryant Gumbel.
Peter Schruth, CBS president of affiliate relations, said at last week’s CBS affiliates meeting that the network encourages representatives of the affiliate body, individual companies and local stations to give their input. CBS has not been No. 1 in the morning show time period in the 46 years it has been on the air, he said. The first step, Mr. Schruth said, is to get stations to air the entire two hours of the network show. “We feel that we’re never going to be highly competitive or beat the `Today’ show without a full two hours,” he said.
Affiliates in about 83 percent of the country now carry the full two hours of the network show. The rest of the stations take the 7 a.m.-to-8 a.m. hour and blend local news into much of that period. Two CBS-owned stations, WJZ-TV, Baltimore, and WCCO-TV, Minneapolis, also do a local-national mix.
“We want affiliates to have a lot of participation, but we are hoping in the long run to produce a strong national broadcast like ABC and NBC,” Mr. Schruth said.
Some affiliates don’t want to concede, because their local programming is often more competitive than network programming against NBC’s and ABC’s network morning shows. But Belo Television Group President Jack Sander said while CBS has yet to provide a proposal for the new “Early Show,” he is open to what the network has to offer. “Overall the general feeling is let’s have an open mind … if CBS is willing to have an open mind,” Mr. Sander said. “There are a number of people who feel that if we’re cookie cutter just like the other two guys [ABC and NBC], when you’re No. 3, it does not make sense. I think you’ve got to look at the whole thing, the whole enchilada. Basically, we’re programming 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., so I look at it as a four-hour block, not just network two hours and local two hours.”
Mr. Sander, former head of the NBC affiliate board, said the morning show issue needs more research into what viewers want.
The affiliate board will have a subcommittee to explore talks with CBS on its NCAA deal, which will cost the network about $6 billion to televise the men’s basketball tournament through 2013. Mr. Schruth said the network hopes to “establish a willingness from stations” to help pay those costs. Ray Deaver, chairman of the CBS affiliate board, said, “We’re open to discussion. We’re open to hearing what the possibilities are.”
CBS flew in some of its top news talent-Dan Rather, Steve Kroft, Scott Pelley and Bill Geist-for its CBS News presentation. CBS News President Andrew Heyward said more synergy with Viacom’s other properties and more live teases with local station talent and more aggressive coverage of big local stories, using local reporters. Another goal is to reach out to women viewers who weren’t willing to sample the show before. The “Early Show” will have a rotation of fill-in hosts this summer while the network looks for a replacement for Mr. Gumbel.
Last Wednesday CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves unveiled the network’s fall lineup and delivered what some affiliates said is the best 10 p.m. lead-in they’ve had in some time. “We know the value of your late news, and we designed our new schedule to give you a stronger lead-in with the best roster of 10 o’clock dramas we’ve seen in years,” Mr. Moonves said. It was the first time many station managers saw the new 10 p.m. dramas-Monday’s “CSI: Miami,” Wednesday’s “Presidio Med,” Thursday’s “Without a Trace” and Friday’s “RHD/LA.”
Kevin O’Brien, president of Meredith Broadcasting, said he would rather have “CSI” as a 10 p.m. show. “I think `CSI’ is ready to take `ER’ and beat it, but they [CBS] see it differently. They see the entire two-hour block as a lead-in,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Gary Gardner, general manager at WINK-TV, Fort Meyers, Fla., is hoping the new lead-ins will give his 11 p.m. newscast a needed edge over NBC affiliate WBBH-TV. WINK’s 11 p.m. news is constantly battling for first place against WBBH, he said. He doesn’t mind that most of the 10 p.m. dramas now have darker, grittier themes. “The upcoming prime-time schedule is more promising than it ever has been,” Mr. Gardner said. “At 10 p.m., if they [CBS] can get us over the hump to win three out of five nights, then theoretically you’ve got the best lead-in for the 11 o’clock news.”
The network also unveiled to affiliates its new fall promo campaign using U2’s song “Beautiful Day,” which began airing in CBS promos June 1. The network negotiated the rights to the song for stations to use, and stations were offered local tie-ins to insert their news anchor teams in the promos.
“The whole overall meeting was impressive-CBS has their act together,” Mr. Sander said. “It was a very good, solid and straightforward meeting. The good thing about Peter [Schruth], Les [Moonves] and Mel [Karmazin] is what you see is what you get. I came away very, very enthusiastic. I think they’re going to have a very good year.”