‘Early Show’ EP on Gulf Coverage and ‘The Best Job in Television with the Worst Hours Ever’

By kevin 

Today marks the 50th day since the BP oil leak began in the Gulf of Mexico, and CBS’s Harry Smith anchored “The Early Show” from Grand Isle, Louisiana. “We’ve been covering it,” executive producer David Friedman told TVNewser, “But when you put an anchor there, it makes it feel more important to people.”

For Monday’s broadcast, Weather anchor Dave Price as well as contributing doctors Jennifer Ashton and Deb Turner Bell were dispatched to the region.

“This was a story we spent so much time covering and we felt like day 50 was something that we should be there for,” Friedman said, explaining that plans had been put into motion over the weekend with Smith flying out after Monday’s show. CBS announced Monday that the network’s evening and morning shows would be anchored from the region weekly. “Our feeling is that the story is such a big story, everyone is watching and caring about it, as they should, and we felt like we’re going to give it as much attention as possible.”

Friedman says he’s been working closely with “Evening News” EP Rick Kaplan to coordinate, but admits that the morning show format “does present some challenges.”

“The difference is– in evening news, it’s a little bit easier to cover your broadcast: it’s only 30 minutes and most of the broadcast is designated to that coverage,” Friedman explains. “With the morning shows, they’re two hours long. And you start with oil and end with cooking. It’s a weird thing. You have Harry Smith in the Gulf, but then you still have to do the lifestyle, fitness, cooking segments. And yes, you have Harry in a place where he’s out of pocket for those, but we have the people to cover us. ”

CBS named Friedman EP late last year, and he started in January, going from producing Lady Gaga performances and NBC’s New Years Eve broadcast to producing CBS’ morning coverage of the earthquake in Haiti just a few weeks later.

We chatted with the new boss about how “The Early Show” is changing and his transition to what he calls “the best job in television with the worst hours ever.” Read our Q&A after the jump.

How has the new gig been going?

It’s been crazy for me. I was doing the New Years Eve Broadcast in Times Square for NBC, then I started that following Monday on the Early Show. I never went back to L.A. I still have a house there.

We’re coming up on 6 months, which I saw as the first chapter. In a lot of ways it’s felt like 10 years, in some ways its felt like a week. I really like the job. I started in morning television and I wanted to get back to it someday. I had looked for opportunities, and when this came up, it was just time. I’m really excited. But it’s a beast, 10 hours of live TV each week. My friends and family have given up on me. It’s the best job in television, with the worst hours ever.

What changes did you want to make when you started and what changes have you made since?

When I got here, there were a lot of things I wanted to work on. I wanted to get more buzzy and more relevant. I wanted to change the look and feel.

We got Erica Hill, and I’m really excited about her. We changed the graphics. Some of the things that needed to be fixed were very traditional morning show things. I said, “Let’s get ‘The Early Show’ in a place where its hitting what viewers look for.” We weren’t hitting on all those cylinders. We need to be finding interesting things that viewers are talking about at the gym and at home. That buzzy, interesting debate. We weren’t doing enough of that.

So what can you tell us about the next chapter?

Now we get into the second six months, and we’re constantly looking at the show, and how we can keep improving. We have a bunch of new talent like Rebecca Jarvis. We watch some of the emerging stars, like Dr. Jen Ashton. You develop your talent, so they continue to emerge in the morning show landscape. Viewers wake up to a family every day.

It’s a very competitive landscape…we may not get every booking, but we gotta be in the fight for all of them.

When you got hired, it was around the time that “GMA” was going through some changes and some viewed it as an opportunity for the “Early Show” to differentiate itself.

A lot of people said, “This is the chance. ‘Good Morning America’ just lost Diane Sawyer to ‘World News.'” We’ve all done this for a while. I didn’t expect there would be this drastic decline in viewers all of a sudden.

For us, its about giving everyone the most important hard news in the morning, and then start to shift gears into entertainment and lifestyle. Our goal is to give viewers a little bit of everything. It’s about putting together a solid program and developing our brand and our talent.

Last question: you were dominating the TVNewser Bracket Challenge during the NCAA Tournament. We all thought you were going to win, what happened?

(Laughing) Duke killed me. I gotta fess up a little. I played some college baseball and hockey, but NCAA basketball is not my strength. I talked to a couple of my buddies about who to take in some of the games. I can’t take credit, man.

(Note: This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.)