The Eye net’s new “Early Show” doesn’t really need much critical evaluation, considering how many times Bryant Gumbel and company assess their own performance. In case you didn’t know, “The Early Show” debuted last week, but don’t worry, they’ll remind you of that just about every 10 minutes. Endless tours of the new studio, comments by guests and anchors and even news coverage that features clips from earlier segments of “The Early Show” lean toward the incestuous. But let’s face it: Compared with CBS’ previous attempts at a morning mag, “The Early Show” has no place to go but up.
Producers Al Berman and Steve Friedman have given Studio 58 in Gotham an airy, modern look, complete with vibrant colors and revelry-worthy music, but if you where hoping for something new and really different, you won’t find it here.
Gumbel, the alpha male of morning shows, spent most of the first week marking his turf while sporting his new, slightly softer side. But openly lusting over pop singer Marc Anthony’s Miss Universe girlfriend doesn’t help transform him into Mr. Huggable. Interview skills still rep Gumbel’s strength, although he kicked off the show by throwing softball questions at President Clinton, then later in the week, tried to provoke presidential candidate Bill Bradley by calling him a bore. The real and unintentional match, however, came when he and fellow egomaniac Donald Trump shared the same space. For a moment, it seemed like the world might implode.
That kind of presence leaves very little room for Jane Clayson, the supposed co-host of “The Early Show.” Clayson, a nondescript but seemingly capable TV anchor, appears a little gun shy, perhaps all too aware of Gumbel’s less than perfect track record with female co-hosts. She and Gumbel are forced to stand unnaturally close for most of their shared segments, but Clayson has yet to handle any real duties.
Instead, the work is divvied up among the show’s long list of correspondents, some of whom are there purely for the novelty factor, like former MTV host Martha Quinn, and others, such as Martha Stewart and Bob Vila, for the name recognition. The news, however, is taken very seriously, and Julie Chen does a respectable job, her initiation to the show marked by extensive coverage of the crash of EgyptAir Flight 900. Others, like Gail O’Neill, who covers movie news, and Barbara Alvarez, who reports on entertainment, seem a little green and slightly intimidated by Gumbel.
Mark McEwen, back to handling the weather and diplomatic duties, is the only one who seems to be enjoying himself, perhaps because he’s outside, in the warm embrace of New Yorkers, instead of inside on the chilly studio set. At various times throughout the show, Gumbel and Clayson venture outside as well. But taking Gumbel outside the studio is just pointless. A guy this disdainful of most of his own interview subjects is certainly not going to suffer the average Joe on the street with a “Hi Mom” sign.
Gumbel has never really been the person you want to see when you wake up, at least not before a strong cup of coffee. He’s more suited to early evening, say about 7 p.m. on Sundays. No matter how earnest your question or how far you teeter on the edge of your seat, you aren’t going to get any earth-shattering news from Dana Delany when she’s talking about her new CBS sweeps movie.
Director Don Roy King sticks to a rigid and predictable schedule, with the first hour featuring serious news, high-profile interviews and health information. Apparently IQs drop sharply after 8 a.m. when the show turns its focus to the really important stuff, like the sexiest men alive and the latest diet craze. Not exactly a progressive view of the stay-at-home crowd.
If “The Early Show” wants to distinguish itself as something different, why not think a little outside the box? You can’t have a segment on the work-at-home boom and then treat these same people like idiots.
Technical credits are flawless, and King does a nice job with the long, sweeping shots that draw viewers into the set each morning. The graphics are a bit wall-eyed, however, too soft and round in contrast to Gumbel’s sharp edge. Also, Bob Vila has some more work to do to make this former office and showroom space inviting enough to be a viewer’s first stop in the morning.
Perhaps he can ask Martha Stewart for some help.