Bass in ‘Early’ exec seat

Former 'Today' producer to replace Friedman

CBS continues to shake up “The Early Show,” recruiting former “Today” exec Michael Bass to replace current exec producer Steve Friedman.

News of Friedman’s exit comes less than two weeks after Bryant Gumbel announced he was leaving the show.

Friedman and Gumbel are longtime friends, and speculation that Friedman was set to ankle the Eye ayemcast began almost immediately after Gumbel announced his departure.

At the time, Friedman told Daily Variety he planned to stay with “The Early Show.” On Tuesday morning, however, Friedman and CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward met and made the “mutual decision” that it was time for Friedman to move on.

CBS News needs “another three to five years to build this franchise,” Friedman said. “Bryant came to the conclusion that he didn’t want to stay for that. And I came to the conclusion that it was time for me to go.”

Friedman said he couldn’t focus on running “The Early Show” while simultaneously planning to relaunch the program with a new anchor or anchor team.

What’s more, Heyward didn’t seem willing to offer Friedman any long-term assurances about his position.

“If six weeks ago, Andrew had said to me, ‘You’re the prime architect of this show no matter what happens,’ I might have made a different decision,” Friedman said. “And if you had called me yesterday and asked (about the future), I would have said, ‘I don’t know.’ Today, Andrew and I had a meeting, and I felt the best thing for me was that we end it. I go with how I feel on things.”

Friedman will stay at “The Early Show” through the end of May. A start date for Bass, who will serve as senior exec producer, has not yet been finalized, though it’s expected he’ll begin working on a new template for “The Early Show” immediately.

Like Gumbel and Friedman, Bass is a “Today Show” alum. He also considers Friedman a mentor.

“He made ‘The Early Show’ competitive again,” said Bass, referring to the show’s percolating viewership. Eye’s ayemcast is still a distant third behind NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

First priority for Bass and Heyward is finding Gumbel’s replacement. There’s been speculation the Eye might go with an all-femme anchor team, but Bass said the network hasn’t discussed the issue yet.

“It’s wide open. It’s really a matter of who is the best person — man or woman.”

Heyward continued to be vague about how much change is in store for “The Early Show.”

“I’m opposed to change merely for the sake of change,” he said. “We have a long way to go, but we’ll build on our strengths.”

As for Bass, exec served as acting executive producer of “Today” for six months, after Jeff Zucker’s promotion to NBC Entertainment prexy in December 2000. Bass was passed over for the top post and chose to leave the net not long after.

“He brings good experience with fresh perspective,” Heyward said.

From December 1995 until Zucker’s departure, Bass was senior broadcast producer of “Today.” He helped plan “Today’s” coverage of the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta and planned and produced its coverage of the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

He also was responsible for the “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?” series.

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