Clayson’s no ‘Early’ bird

Anchor to leave skein but not CBS

After a summer of speculation about what CBS will do with “The Early Show” and its anchor Jane Clayson, half of the mystery at least has been answered.

Clayson, who co-anchored the third-place ayemer with Bryant Gumbel for 2½ years before he left last May, will also leave the skein. Clayson will remain at the net, where she’ll be a correspondent for the “Evening News” segment “Eye on America” and an occasional contributor to the newsmagazine “48 Hours Investigates.” Her previous contract ended in early September.

“Jane has helped make the ‘Early Show’ a credible and competitive entry in morning television,” said CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward. “She joins the ‘Evening News’ as a fast-rising name.”

Network morning shows emphasize familiarity and comfort, and now the Eye is in a difficult position as it tries to cultivate a new format for the show while looking at two vacant anchor chairs. Indeed, its situation isn’t unlike where it was three years ago, when Steve Friedman, who like current senior executive producer Michael Bass, came over from “The Today Show” to goose the show’s ratings.

While the total auds of “The Early Show” didn’t plummet with Gumbel and Clayson as hosts, they increased only slightly — and are still a perennial distant third behind ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s front-running “Today Show.”

At the same time, cable newbies such Fox News’ rambunctious “Fox & Friends” and CNN’s hard news-driven “American Morning” have shown galloping triple-digit audience growth over the previous year.

Since Gumbel and senior executive producer Steve Friedman exited last spring, Clayson has been testing the range of her hosting skills, interfacing with a revolving door of rotating anchors that range from “60 Minutes II” correspondent Charlie Rose, CBS chief White House correspondent White House John Roberts, Deborah Norville of “Inside Edition” and Josh Binswanger of the History Channel.

The three-year “Early Show” vet recently drew a lot of attention when she tried to interview media personality and then-regular guest Martha Stewart about her controversial stock sell-off while she was preparing food on the set.

“I still think Jane has looked better than anyone else,” said a tenpercenter of one of the guest anchors. “I think she should have her job back.”

Speculation about two recent guest hosts, Harry Smith of A&E’s “Biography” and Hannah Storm of NBC Sports, however, has been intensifying. (The network said it doesn’t comment on any potential negotiations. Agents did not respond to calls made late Friday.)

Tom Bergeron is another guest anchor whose name constantly comes up, but a source close to the situation says that no negotiations are taking place with the “Hollywood Squares” host.

Smith and Norville, two of the potential candidates with the greatest name recognition, are former morning-show hosts, which actually may hinder their case. Naysayers believe that both have already taken a shot at a.m. TV with mixed success. CBS, they predict, would only hire one of them.

Clayson will wrap up her “Early Show” duties Sept. 29 and will shift to the “Evening News” the next day.

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