CBS affils push local a.m. angle

Aug 5, 2002  •  Post A Comment

There’s one group that’s not joining in the growing chorus of those wondering why two months after Bryant Gumbel walked away from the “Early Show” CBS News hasn’t named a successor. That’s CBS affiliates who think hasty decisions would only waste another opportunity to fix the forever-third-place morning show once and for all.
Some of these same affiliates also think the way to build a stronger national show is market by market. They are quietly urging CBS to seek and consider options that would accommodate a stronger local stamp on or presence within the show.
A major theme during a series of conversations held with CBS News executives since the CBS affiliates convention in Las Vegas in late May has been the affiliates’ belief that “The Early Show” is most likely to grow from the grass roots up. The Futures Committee of the affiliate body recently handed over research that supports their case.
The affiliates are approaching the sessions like diplomats, seeking common ground, encouraging broader brainstorming and taking care not to step on executive toes, said an executive familiar with the ongoing talks. Ray Deaver, the outgoing chairman of the CBS affiliates association, was unavailable for comment.
The affiliates specifically have not, for example, made any talent suggestions, because they do not want to come across as presumptuous.
CBS has been tight-lipped about any names or formats that might or might not be on the table since late May, when “The View’s” Meredith Vieira rejected an offer to join “Early Show” and Jane Clayson gamely began sharing the couch with a parade of guest co-anchors, some of whom have been aggressive about fostering the impression that they are being courted to take the morning gig.
However, there is a growing perception that until CBS News President Andrew Heyward and “Early” executive producer Michael Bass present CBS President Leslie Moonves with a format that he thinks can help change the network’s also-ran history in the morning, Mr. Moonves is not interested in talking about who should or shouldn’t be part of the “Early” ensemble.
In the mid-’90s, when many affiliates had become so frustrated with the network’s inability to create a viable or lasting morning show that they broke away to do their own morning shows, CBS lured them back into the national fold with three “blended format” options that alternated blocks of local and network programming.
However, in recent years, the network-which sank millions of dollars into the team of Mr. Gumbel and former senior executive producer Steve Friedman and a brand-new street-level studio-has pressured stations to trim the local and take everything the network was producing, even though it often translated into double-digit ratings losses for the stations and a very choppy, broken-up format.
At the CBS affiliates convention in late May, the network sent the message that it was not going to be giving back “Early Show” time to affiliates. But since the “Early” talks began, CBS News executives are described as having gone from “tensed” to “more attentive.”
“We are very pleased to be working closely with our affiliates on this daypart that is extremely important to both of us,” a CBS News spokeswoman said.
“I don’t think they are humoring us,” said one affiliate familiar with the conversations. “We are trying to take it very slow and easy and making no demands. We are asking them to open their eyes.”