- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New ‘Early Show’

CBS News reintroduced “The Early Show” this week in hopes of challenging the morning news leaders at NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

According to Associated Press, the network is asking dozens of its affiliates to take a leap of faith in the morning by giving up on a format in which they led or were competitive in the ratings at 7 a.m. in favor of a network show that has been No. 3 for decades, no matter what changes CBS has made in the past.

“The Early Show” (seen locally on WUSA Channel 9) got a new set, a new leader and an end to the “blended” format in which about 43 stations, covering 20 percent of the country, ditched much of the national feed for their own local programming.

“The Early Show” format retains host Harry Smith, who has quietly become a CBS News stalwart and chief substitute in the evening for Katie Couric. He’s joined by veteran Julie Chen and newcomer Maggie Rodriguez, who worked in Miami local news for seven years and served a brief apprenticeship at CBS’ “Saturday Morning Show” before moving to “The Early Show” in December. She replaced Hannah Storm.

Driving the train for the past few months has been Executive Producer Shelley Ross, who promises a more aggressively competitive program.

“We are about the news first and the content first,” Miss Ross said. “We’re going to really demonstrate that we’re not your grandmother’s morning show.”

Miss Ross took over “Good Morning America” when there were serious questions about its survival. She brought it back, but her combative personality wore thin on some colleagues, and she was yanked from the broadcast in 2004 after four years.

Her style became evident her first week at CBS. She found that “The Early Show” had no separate booking department to chase after guests, assigning those duties to low-level producers. That quickly changed.

Yet changing viewers’ habits is notoriously difficult in the morning. “Today” hasn’t lost a week in the ratings for more than a decade. “The Early Show” is averaging 2.7 million viewers a morning this season. “Today” has an audience of about 5.5 million and ABC has 5 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Games rule ratings

The venerable newsmagazine “60 Minutes” had 18.2 million viewers on Sunday — its best performance in two years among the 25-to-54-year-old demographic considered key for news shows, AP reports, citing data from Nielsen Media Research.

It had a trio of news-making interviews, with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the assassination of his chief political rival, with baseball star Roger Clemens about his reported use of steroids and with a Boston mobster who said he has killed 20 persons.

However, with two prime-time National Football League playoff games, NBC easily beat its rivals, averaging 11.7 million viewers last week. CBS had 8.8 million, Fox 8.7 million and ABC 8.4 million. Following were the CW with 1.9 million, My Network TV with 1.4 million and ION Television with 560,000.

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision averaged 3.1 million viewers, Telemundo had 1.2 million, TeleFutura 640,000 and Azteca 110,000.

For the week of Dec. 31 through Jan. 6, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: 1) NFL Playoffs: Jacksonville at Pittsburgh, NBC, 25.7 million; 2) “NFL Playoff Pre-Kick,” NBC, 23.8 million; 3) “NFL Playoff Bridge,” NBC, 23.4 million; 4) “AFC Wild Card Postgame,” CBS, 21.3 million; and 5) “Desperate Housewives,” ABC, 19.7 million.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse and Kelly Jane Torrance from staff and wire reports.

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