'Early' cues anchor quartet

“The Early Show” anchor Rene Syler is leaving the CBS broadcast in a move that will allow morning-show veep Steve Friedman to adopt a four-anchor format similar to that on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today.”

Syler had been an anchor of “The Early Show” since 2002, when it debuted in its current five-anchor format with Harry Smith, Hannah Storm, Julie Chen and weatherman Dave Price.

At the time the show was cast as an alternative to the more traditional ayem shows at NBC and ABC in that the anchors had no permanent roles and switched off reading the news and conducting big interviews.

But Friedman, who helped institutionalize the four-host format during two stints as exec producer of NBC’s “Today,” is still a firm believer in the approach and had sought to bring more clear identities to the personalities on “The Early Show” when he joined CBS last spring.

“The show is moving in the right direction but it lacks definition because we had four people who were basically interchangeable, and that’s a tough way to do a morning television program,” Friedman said.

Over the next few months, Friedman, senior exec producer Michael Bass and news and sports prexy Sean McManus will create more delineated roles for Smith, Storm, Chen and Price.

That may include having one become the designated newsreader and debuting a specific area of the set for news, as “GMA” and “Today” do. New set and graphics will appear Jan. 2.

Personnel issues on “The Early Show” are complicated by Chen, who spends summers on the West Coast as host of “Big Brother” and is married to CBS topper Leslie Moonves.

Recent ratings have indicated that additional viewers come to “The Early Show” during big news events, such as the midterm elections or the plane crash involving Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle, so Friedman plans to focus on making the first half-hour as newsy as possible.

CBS’ competitors also do news in the first half-hour, but Friedman said, “I believe there’s space on the highway for a hard-hitting news half-hour that I’m not sure the others are doing on a day-to-day basis.”

Friedman is sending Smith to Washington, D.C., to anchor Thursday morning’s broadcast so that he can interview policymakers in person after the Iraq Study Group releases its recommendations.

Syler’s decision to leave was a blend of professional and personal. Friedman said he and Syler had a number of conversations about her future, and she opted to pursue other media opportunities, including the publication of her first book, “Good Enough Mother.”

Syler’s last broadcast will be Dec. 22.

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