As we reported earlier, CBS News announced sweeping changes to its morning news program “The Early Show.” Anchors Maggie Rodriguez and Harry Smith, along with weather anchor Dave Price will all leave the program, with Chris Wragge, Erica Hill, Jeff Glor and Marysol Castro taking over January 3rd.
TVNewser spoke to “Early Show” executive producer David Friedman—now almost exactly a year into his current role— about the decision to relaunch the program with a new team.
TVNewser: Why did you decide to make the changes at The Early Show?
David Friedman: Well, I started here a year ago, and when I came in the goal was to continue to grow this show and be more and more competitive in the morning, I looked at every single aspect of the show, from content to bookings to staffing, talent, and my big priority was not to rush to do anything, but to soak it all in and make decisions that would take us to the next level.
This was a very long process to figure out what would do just that, and put a team in place that would make us even better than we already are and going forward. It wasn’t a rushed thing, we have been talking about different options and different teams for a quite a while, and we decided this was the way to go. I am sure it feels abrupt to everyone else, but we have put a lot of thought into it.
TVN: How did you decide on the anchor lineup that will be starting January 3rd?
DF: A huge advantage for us is that Chris and Erica came from [The Early Show] Saturday, both have done different things of course, Erica from CNN and Chris from local here at CBS. You could see their chemistry, they jump off the screen. When I got here they would often shift in rotation, when someone was off on vacation or sick or whatever, it gave me such an advantage to be able to see their work. If you had not done that and come at it from a different place it would have been more difficult.
The same goes for Jeff Glor, who has been working with me for almost a year now as national correspondent, as news anchor. Again, very familiar with the morning genre, very familiar with CBS and very familiar for our viewers, so a huge advantage for us. Even Marysol, who comes from ABC, comes from “GMA.” She also has done the morning grind. As we put the team together it came together quite well.
TVN: What will Harry Smith, Maggie Rodriguez and David Price be doing at CBS?
DF: I think [CBS News president] Sean [McManus] mentioned that they all have opportunities here that he is talking to them about. But that is still being worked out. The work that they have all done, not only at the “Early Show” but at CBS as a whole, obviously they have worked really hard and I respect how much they have done for the show. I think the show is a very good one today and it will be better every day.
TVN: What changes will we be seeing on the Saturday edition of “The Early Show?”
DF: We are talking about that, it is something we are discussing actively. Now, because Erica has already sort of moved on from that show, although not officially, and with Chris leaving, our focus will not only be on launching this new team but deciding on and putting a new Saturday team in place. That is next on our agenda, obviously you can see based on where Chris and Erica came from, just how important Saturday is for us. For us, the priority was to figure out this new team, get us ready for January 3rd and go from there.
TVN: Do you think you will make any tweaks to the format once the new team starts?
DF: I make tweaks every day, we have made tweaks along the way that I think have made us stronger and more competitive. Very subtle things, because I think overall the morning shows work and they work for a reason. I don’t see any drastic format changes coming January 3rd just because we have new anchors. But every day we are looking at new ways to give the viewers what they want. Subtle things here and there that we have played with that you probably haven’t even noticed that have happened over the last year or so.
TVN: Can you give any examples?
DF: Our format in the breakdowns of stuff, we have done more consumer, more news you can use, we have given less time to what you would call tabloid sensational stories. I think more of it is about content. Times have changed in the last year or three years. Viewers need to watch shows that can help them. It has been difficult times, and they turn to the morning shows for advice and information band wisdom, and that comes from not only our anchors but also our team of contributors, so I am trying to focus more on that type of content. In return, what has happened is that the format has change slightly, you might not see as many stories on sensational, cover of magazine type stuff that in years past might have been more evident.
But it is very subtle because those very stories that I say I am doing less of, they are also very important to “The Early Show” viewer, those are the water cooler buzz stories that you can’t ignore. People are talking about Michael Douglas, and it is important.
TVN: Do you have a long-term goal or strategy for The Early Show, looking beyond January 3rd?
DF: Well, I want to keep improving the show and working towards that goal. The more and more news you can use, hopefully it improves the brand, hopefully it increases the ratings and in the process introduce this new team as the team to watch for many years. I think that is what’s most exciting about this whole change.
I honestly believe this team is the team for the future, if you look at the landscape of morning television, we may have done it first, but things are going to change over the next two to three years, they always do. We are approaching that cycle, and in many ways we are getting there first, and with a team many viewers are familiar with. The goal is to keep improving the show every day, work harder and harder, and give the viewers a show that we think they will not only relate to, but react to.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.