"Whose Turn After Gumbel?"
New York Newsday
April 8, 2002
by Verne Gay


Players who could fill in as CBS’ next ‘Early’ host

THERE IS A SENSE -- no doubt born of reality -- that CBS doesn't have a clue what to do with "The Early Show.” Still in third place. Soon without a co-anchor. An overwhelming impression that it is, perhaps always will be, a nonfactor in the morning.

So what to do? Play the name game, of course. Starting right now, top CBS executives are playing it, so why can't we? Bryant Gumbel will be gone soon. Who's next?

Before the network answers that question, it has to answer a few others. Like this: Does CBS want to win? Really win. Not just set up a street studio. Interview the latest star of the latest movie. Do -- in other words -- what its competition does?

Most of all: Does it want it to be an entertainment program or a news program? Morning TV ("Good Morning America,” "Today”) can do news very well. It can also be full of back- scratching, log-rolling, puffery, promotion and pablum. Why not make a choice, CBS? A hard, thoughtful, intelligent news program or an all-entertainment all-the-time show? One or the other. This shouldn't be a difficult problem. This is called counterprogramming.

With that in mind, the names (some of which are already in circulation):

Dan Rather: Two words -- "Diane Sawyer.” She took the plunge. Why not Dan? He'd give "The Early Show” instant attention, credibility and edge. He'd have to drop "48 Hours” and "60 Minutes 2,” get to the studio by 6:30 a.m., and then on to "Evening News.” Crazy? No. Rather still has superhuman energy, and this would be the ultimate challenge for Dan.

Problem: A short-term fix. Dan's 70. He may be superhuman, but he's not Superman.

Regis Philbin: He joked about it on Friday's "Live.” "They keep calling me about these things. First Dave, then this.” Show would have to effectively drop any pretense of news, and become -- for all intents and purposes -- an entertainment program. Reege's name has been floated (via a blazing "National Enquirer” story two weeks ago). Rumors continue about a soured relationship with ABC because of the expected demise of "Millionaire."

Problem: Too much of a grind, and a year left on his contract.

Jon Stewart: Seriously, folks. A morning comedy program. Some "Daily Show.” Some unscripted freewheeling Stewart (no epithets, Jon), with call-ins, interviews and so on. Talk comedy works on radio. Why not TV?

Problem: Stewart's not insane. Hour is way too early. Also, two hours is a lot of show for one guy who is used to a heavily scripted half-hour.

Charlie Rose: Mr. Serious knows something about keeping odd hours, and show could become platform for heavyweight news interviews.

Problem: Charlie would have to write in contract: "Will never, ever interview ‘Survivor' contestant.”

John Roberts: Dimpled Canadian has gained chops in Washington as CBS White House correspondent, and is an inside candidate.

Problem: As exciting as yesterday's toast.

Troy Roberts: The other Roberts. A "48 Hours” stalwart and solid newsguy.

Problem: No name recognition.

Jim Nantz: Almost the minute Gumbel quit, sports guy Nantz became the front-runner, and CBS instantly -- and vigorously -- threw cold water on his name. Did CBS protest too much? Nantz would be a solid choice, and provide continuity (assuming continuity is what CBS wants).

Problem: CBS Sports has already nixed this.

Russ Mitchell: CBS weekend morning anchor and Gumbel stand-in who is a nice, decent, clean-cut morning guy with all the skills to handle the job.

Problem: The safe choice and again, little name recognition.

Bob Costas: Yes, whenever these jobs come up, Costas becomes a perfunctory addition to any list.

Problem: Lives in St. Louis (and will never leave). Loves baseball, not all this nonsense. And has longterm commitments from HBO and NBC.

Tom Bergeron: A game show host? Why not? Bergeron ("Hollywood Squares”) has been a good stand-in on those days when Gumbel was on the back nine at Hudson National.

Problem: He's a game show host, for goodness sake.


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