Affils press CBS brass for ‘Early’ answers

Show to incorporate guest hosts during summer

LAS VEGAS — Eye execs kept their lips sealed Thursday when pressed by affiliates and the media for a timeline of when the network expected to hire Bryant Gumbel’s replacement for the “Early Show.”

“Rather than make a precipitous decision, we will take the time to make the right one,” CBS News president Andrew Heyward said during a presentation at CBS’ affiliates meeting in Las Vegas.

What Heyward would divulge was that the “Early Show” will incorporate guest hosts this summer, and that he would be prepared to talk within the next few weeks to affiliates about plans for the fall. He also gave a list of points the show generally would be committed to, including femme-appeal.

During a closed-door meeting among the net and its affils Thursday, CBS also reiterated its interest in affiliates offering their input.

What at least one station operator had to say after the meeting was that he and several other local broadcasters are “disenchanted” with the morning situation. Exec, whose station employs a blended (40-minute national, 20-minute local) newscast in the first hour, told Daily Variety that he wants 7 a.m. back for local programming. His is among a handful of stations — 17% of CBS affiliates, according to CBS — that employ the blend. Also among that 17% are CBS O&Os in Baltimore and Minneapolis, both of which have decades-long traditions of highly rated local ayem news.

CBS Television affiliate relations prexy Peter Schruth, however, said his impression of the affiliates’ beefs with the morning have less to do with the local-national balance — or even with Gumbel’s replacement — than with the web’s historic struggle in the time period.

“Their frustration, if anything, comes from the fact that the network has been airing for 46 years a morning show and has never been No. 1,” he said. “Our answer is that we’re a new company now, we’re part of a major media powerhouse that is behind this — and knows if there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Indeed Viacom Inc. prexy-chief operating officer Mel Karmazin told affiliates at a Thursday luncheon that Viacom will “commit its resources” to perking up “The Early Show.”

“We hear everything you’re saying regarding the morning newscast. We have 100% confidence in the people at CBS News,” he said. “And we will be here next year with a dramatically improved daypart.”