EXCLUSIVE: The news broke last week –another year, another revamp to CBS’ morning entry–The Early Show. Today, at the West 57th Street headquarters, CBS execs unveiled the new wake-up team of veteran interviewer Charlie Rose and Oprah’s BFF, Gayle King.
At the same time in the Meatpacking District, soon-to-be former Early Show anchor Chris Wragge was emceeing the launch of AmberWatch TV.
It was there that FishbowlNY caught up with the genial anchorman.
Wragge, who left WCBS/Channel 2 as the station’s top presence at the end of 2010, says he saw it coming.
“They’ve been great. They’ve been very upfront with me,” Wragge admits. “When new people come in they want their people fronting their new shows. So, it wasn’t a surprise to me [and] didn’t come as a shock to me.”
Before making changes in front of the camera, CBS hired Chris Licht as executive producer.
Wragge says it’s not a firing from the program, stating that he’s under contract until 2014.
“They’re going to keep me around in some capacity, I’m not totally being set out to pasture,” Wragge tells FishbowlNY.
While disappointed that he will not be the Early Show frontman starting in 2012, the versatile anchor was able to make peace with the decision.
“When I found out that the show was going to go in a totally opposite direction, it’s not like they replaced me with someone who is a similar version of me…[Charlie] provides a service to them that I can’t provide,” Wragge says.
Rose hosted his eponymous, no-frills talk show for many years on PBS. In the 1980s, Rose honed his interviewing skills on CBS’ Nightwatch. While at the Tiffany Network, he was a correspondent for 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II.
But Wragge, who rose from local ranks to fill-in and weekend duties at The Early Show, is optimistic.
“I’m being benched for a little while, but there is a second half,” Wragge laughs. “I do plan on coming back at some point.”
For now, though, Wragge is reacquainting himself with Channel 2 viewers. September brought the first inkling that Wragge’s future on The Early Show was uncertain–he returned to anchor the 6 p.m. newscast with Dana Tyler. (Don Dahler’s contract was reworked to weekend lead anchor.)
“I love being back with Kristine [Johnson], Dana and Lonnie [Quinn] as well,” Wragge says. “They’ve been very good to me for a lot of years. To go back to that after what I’ve had to endure these last couple of months has been a welcome.”
Although not as welcome, Wragge understands that this was in the “brochure.”
“I’m not a kid. I’ve been doing this a long enough time, and I’ve been fired before,” Wragge says. “I’ve had to endure all the things people go through in this line of work. This is not that tough.”
It’s also not tough for the likable personality to wish the new faces on The Early Show the best, especially King.
“Gayle, I’ve known for years,” Wragge says. “Since I worked with her back in Hartford in the early 90s.”
Two current on-air staffers are holdovers in the new regime, co-anchor Erica Hill, who will anchor the harder news 7 a.m. with Rose, and news reader Jeff Glor.
“They’ve become great friends of mine throughout this Early Show experience,” Wragge says.
“It’s been 30 years of tough sledding at CBS in the mornings,” Wragge says. “If they think this is going to turn the tide a little, they have got my full support.”
Fans of Wragge will note his workload is expected to increase at WCBS once the Early Show duties dissipate January 9. He says that could mean more reporting work.
“It’s up to Peter [Dunn, GM] and David [Friend, news director]. I am strictly at their mercy now,” Wragge admits. “I’m just going to do whatever the hell they want me to do.”
Wragge walked away from WCBS for the Early Show as the station’s top anchor, a title handed over to Maurice DuBois. But, in returning to Channel 2, Wragge says he has no plans to recapture his previous role.
“My goal is to stay employed,” Wragge laughs. “…”The job is [DuBois’] and I’m there as a strong number two, I hope. He’s got nothing to worry about.”