Kaplan Aims to Maintain Momentum at ‘Early Show’

Mar 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Thirty-seven years after Rick Kaplan began his network news career as an associate producer on “The CBS Morning News,” he’s back as the interim executive producer of the show best known for perpetually running a distant third to its competitors in the race of the morning news cash cows.
Mr. Kaplan will focus on picking up the pieces in the wake of the abrupt ouster of “The Early Show” executive producer Shelley Ross. Although Mr. Kaplan retains the title of executive producer of “The CBS Evening News With Katie Couric,” he will largely leave the flagship newscast in the hands of its senior producing staff.
In less than six months at the helm of “The Early Show,” Ms. Ross revamped the set, graphics, theme music and format of the show.
She presided over one anchor change, subbing mellow Maggie Rodriguez in for high-energy Hannah Storm on the team with Harry Smith, Russ Mitchell, Dave Price and Julie Chen.
She amped up the story lineup and energized the packaging.
She also ticked off a lot of the wrong people with everything from her driven management style and sharp-elbowed producing philosophy to her spotty record of returning e-mails.
So, after a spate of colorful gossip items, Ms. Ross’ tenure ended last week with a 79-word statement from CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus that she was out and Mr. Kaplan was interim caretaker of the morning show.
There was no statement from Ms. Ross, who was unavailable for interviews.
She had stemmed the ratings hemorrhaging at ABC’s “Good Morning America” during a five-year run as executive producer, but that stint ended in 2004 after a similar revolt by staffers and anchors.
Mr. McManus had deliberated at length before hiring Ms. Ross, but fixing “The Early Show” was a priority second only to improving “Evening News.”
Even in third place, say observers familiar with the morning show revenue picture, such a program can make $50 million or more in annual profit.
Mr. McManus put an end to the “blended format,” which allowed about 40 scattered stations to program about half of the first “Early” hour as inducement not to drop the morning show altogether.
In addition to putting “The Early Show” on an even footing editorially with its competitors, the format change that started in early January should mean a boost in revenue, because it brings more ad inventory into the network’s portion of the program.
Last Friday, Mr. Kaplan wasn’t saying much when asked how he became the go-to guy for the dawn patrol.
“What makes me such a crappy interview is I actually don’t know very much about anything else,” Mr. Kaplan said. “Frankly, all I can say is what I know, which is that Sean asked me if I could go up on an interim basis and take over ‘The Early Show’ as executive producer. The show has been making steady progress and is kind of on a roll. He wants to keep that going. We’ll kind of keep it growing together.”
Before Mr. Kaplan was hired for “Evening News” in 2006, there had been rumors of him being interviewed by Mr. McManus for “The Early Show.” When asked if that were true, Mr. Kaplan said, “No. Never.”
He declined to respond to the extreme speculation that sprang up with his temporary duty—that Ms. Couric had arranged the “Early” assignment because she had enjoyed the weeks recently when Mr. Kaplan was out with a hip fracture and senior producer Chris Dinan was overseeing the show day-to-day, as he will be now.
“This is all about the family taking care of the family,” Mr. Kaplan said. “That’s really what it’s about.”
He said he was immersed in getting to know “The Early Show” and the people who put it together.
Mr. Kaplan, himself a tough, take-no-guff producer, laughed when asked if he appreciates the irony in his being assigned to “The Early Show” as a good cop.
“I am always the good cop,” he said.


  1. Interesting assessment of GMA with Shelley Ross but my view is different than this one. GMA prospered
    when Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson were placed before the cameras, at the request of David Weston. Ross was brought in by the generosity of Diane Sawyer, who worked with Ross previously only on a weekly basis. Diane and Charlie were the impetus for the ratings up tick and they each continue to be highly received by audiences. Ross, however, is another story. She has encountered negative responses during her career. Her behavior and judgment became magnified as her responsibilities increased and therefore her contact with all personnel also increased from weekly to daily production. Serious deficiencies and issues were noted by all levels of personnel and Ross was found to be below par for the position at now two networks.

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