Will The Third Time (in a year) Be the Charm for CBS Morning News?

By Gail Shister Comment

When CBS recently announced that Charlie Rose and Gayle King would headline its revamped ‘Early Show,’ Rene Syler got slammed with tweets asking for her reaction.

“It’s interesting that people think I’m interested,” says Syler, an ‘Early Show’ anchor from 2002 to ’06. “I’m not in that world anymore. To be honest, I don’t have much of a reaction.”

She may be the only one. Most observers predict that the unlikely combination of the cerebral Rose, who turns 70 next month,  and the chatty King, 56, will do nothing to break CBS’s unabated string of failures in a franchise that dates back to 1954, with host Walter Cronkite.

“It has no shot, in the slightest,” says network-news analyst Andrew Tyndall.

“I don’t get it…. Charlie Rose won’t play in the morning. Of all the timeslots for TV news, morning shows skew the youngest. It’s completely counter-intuitive to hire someone that old.”

When the show launches Jan. 9, the plan is for Rose to handle the 7 a.m. hour and King the 8 a.m., with holdover Erica Hill contributing to both. CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager says the new broadcast will do nothing less than “redefine the morning television landscape.”

Is that all? Heady stuff for a show in its third incarnation since last December; its eighth since ’99.

Having essentially two different programs will be too disruptive to morning viewers accustomed to a more discernible flow, according to Tyndall. “There is such a sharp break between what Rose

embodies and what King embodies. Even if one succeeds, there’s no guarantee the other will succeed.”

In addition, viewers may get confused about whom they’re tuning into at which hour. And if a huge story breaks, will Rose, host of his own PBS interview show; and King, known primarily as BFO (Best Friend of Oprah), co-anchor the live coverage?

A former CBS executive producer, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that neither host has “a compelling personality.”

Rose “doesn’t have the energy you need in the morning to have people get up and move on with their day. She’s sort of a half-star, and always has been.”

Rose underwent heart surgery in Paris in March 2006. Host of his eponymous nightly program since 1991, he’s been frequently criticized for his long questions and slow pace. (He’s even rated a ‘Saturday Night Live’ bit.) Rose plans to continue with the show; King will give hers up on Winfrey’s OWN.

Syler, who was part of an awkward anchor quartet that included Julie Chen, Harry Smith, and Hannah Storm, says she doesn’t buy the semi-facetious claim that CBS is cursed in the mornings.

Still, she adds, “it’s possible that there isn’t enough room for three broadcast-network morning shows. I’m not an expert, but people are creatures of habit. They’ve always gone to ABC and NBC in the morning. Those habits are hard to break.”

Not everyone is down on the ‘Early Show,’ of course. Professor Barbie Zelizer of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania labels the redesign as “an imaginative gamble.”

“I applaud CBS for trying to… fully accommodate news in a time period where other networks aren’t approaching it,” she says. “I know that people are saying it doesn’t have a chance in hell, but circumstances change, contexts change.

“I give it a 50-50 chance. I want it to have an 85-15.”