Stewart ankling ‘Today’ for CBS

Stewart ankles 'Today' to wake up CBS ayem

NEW ORLEANS — High priestess of homemaking Martha Stewart is defecting from NBC’s “Today” show to join CBS’ “This Morning,” where she’ll contribute weekly segments to help draw audiences to the lagging morning chatfest.

The move by Stewart, a contributor to “Today” since 1992, was announced at CBS’ winter affiliate meeting at the Marriott Hotel Sunday. It’s tied to CBS-owned Eyemark Entertainment’s syndication deal for a daily “Martha Stewart” strip bowing this fall, already cleared on many big-market CBS O&Os.

But the planned appearances weren’t part of the Eyemark contract, and required some delicate negotiations, since the domestic doyenne is “moving from the No. 1 morning show to the No. 3 show,” said CBS News president Andrew Heyward.

Heyward called the move “a terrific coup” that “will help us continue to build our morning audience,” which still badly trails “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The Eye web’s ayem show needs a shot in the arm to keep affils happy and willing to stick with network programming in the time period.

Live from New York

Stewart’s segments will air Tuesdays at 8:45 a.m., originating live from either “This Morning’s” set at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York or Stewart’s own Connecticut studio. She’ll also contribute occasional segments to CBS’ primetime newsmagazines, where news execs said she could trail celebrities for interview segments.

In other affil meeting news, CBS said it would begin converting to digital HDTV transmission this spring in a pilot project with WCBS New York, which plans to begin experimental transmission from the Empire State Building.

In a morning presentation, CBS Entertainment president Leslie Moonves presented midseason pilots, showing a lengthy excerpt from the Debi Mazar sitcom “Temporarily Yours” that was enthusiastically received. CBS News execs also detailed plans for expanding a Web site and NewsPath’s desktop video feed system, to be introduced at the National Assn. of Broadcasters’ meeting this spring.

Better mousetrap

The network also introduced new sports division prexy Sean McManus to affils. And Westinghouse chair-man Michael Jordan presented an overview of the company, focusing on how he intends to build the broadcast company following the planned spinoff of Westinghouse’s industrial assets.

Overall, the mood among affils seemed more upbeat, as the Eye web has made slow but steady progress in stabiliz-ing and improving its primetime schedule.

CBS president Jim Warner said 86 affils were No. 1 in primetime during the February sweeps, up from 61 last year, while just 40 of ABC’s stations claimed the top spot, down from 65. The number of NBC’s top-rated stations remained flat at 85.