One of the very first articles I wrote for TIME magazine was about CBS trying to relaunch its low-rated morning show, The Early Show, with a new anchor team. It hired Bryant Gumbel (remember him?) and Jane Clayson (remember her?) and plopped them in a voguish glass-walled studio (remember those?). And then—not much. The Early Show has gone through various permutations over the last dozen years, each some variation on vaguely trying to mimic ABC and NBC, with more hosts and less success.
Now, reports the New York Times… CBS is planning to relaunch its low-rated morning show, The Early Show, with a new anchor team. This time, it appears, PBS smoothie Charlie Rose and Oprah bestie Gayle King will be teaming up to re-re-re-redefine the morning show.
It’s hard to judge the wisdom of the plan, because not a lot has been reported beyond the names (the hires are still not official), and the relaunch isn’t coming until next year. It is not entirely clear how the new team will work, although it sounds like Rose will lead a newsier first hour and King a more feature-oriented second hour. (Update: Though details of the plan are sketchy, it seems the plan is for Rose and King to co-host, but for each to “lead” the 7 and 8 a.m. hours, respectively.) I can only judge by what hasn’t worked for CBS in the past: weakly trying to imitate its competitors.
The big problem with The Early Show, from where I sit, is that it has never developed a distinct personality, instead presenting itself as a mushy ensemble with a little bit of everything you expect from a morning show. The best way to break with this is by picking a direction—any direction, almost—distinct from Today and Good Morning America, and having one strong star give it voice.
It sounds like CBS is opting for two. Theoretically, I could see either Rose or King hosting a distinct, identifiable show for the network. (Disclosure: I’ve been a guest of both in the past, with Rose on PBS and on King’s radio show.) But it seems like those would be two very different shows, and if I read the smoke signals right, CBS seems to plan to simply stack them, one after the other.
Rose, with his lengthy, probing (sometimes over-talky) interview style could produce a reflective, almost Morning Edition-style wake-up show, which would certainly be a change in morning TV, if not necessarily a ratings blockbuster. King could do a lively lifestyle-and current-events focused show. But I’m not quite sure how one segues into another without a collision (though all morning shows now have an arc of hard news mellowing into pop-culture and home features).
Those are the details we’ll have to wait for. If CBS is sincere in its plan to stop imitating its competition and do something very different, this could work. If this is simply another way of arranging everything-you-expect-from-a-morning-show in a slightly different division… well, I could imagine myself rewriting a version of this post again in a couple of years.