‘Early’ remains black eye

Future of 'Show' in question with Gumbel's departure

With the Eye’s primetime showing muscle and its latenight sked in order, CBS affils have turned their attention toward the fate of “The Early Show.”

The low-rated breakfastcast’s future sans Bryant Gumbel was top of mind as station toppers met on Wednesday at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas for the 48th annual CBS affiliates meeting.

Eye is the only broadcast web holding a stand-alone affil meeting this year, and the net’s affiliate relationship is considered among the most amicable. “The Early Show” remained one of few squeaky wheels at the confab.

Ever since Gumbel — around whom the “Early Show” was built–announced his departure earlier this year, observers have anticipated massive changes at the ayem news show.

“The Early Show” was among the first points CBS topper Leslie Moonves addressed in an open session on Wednesday. CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward will also address the future of “The Early Show” during a CBS News sesh this morning.

“We understand the importance of the early morning time period,” Moonves told the group. “It’s a major issue to us, as it is to you. At CBS, we fix our problems.”

Finding a direct replacement for Gumbel is one option for reviving the franchise. But the Eye has been foiled in recent weeks in its attempts to find a new host. On at least two occasions, high-profile news personalities were said to be talking to CBS about replacing Gumbel, only to sign long-term deals with the webs they were already associated with.

This week, MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who had been the subject of speculation as a possible “Early Show” host, was instead named Tom Brokaw’s successor on NBC Nightly News. And last month, Meredith Vieira was negotiating to join “Early Show,” but then signed a pact with the Mouse House to continue on ABC’s “The View” and to host the syndicated version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.”

Net could also decide to give the time period back to affils to program locally. In fact, prior to the Gumbel-led “Early Show,” affils had been given back an hour of the two-hour block for local newscasts.

But station and network execs gave little indication CBS would consider giving the time back.

Freedom Broadcasting’s Alan Bell, whose station group comprises several CBS affils, said he didn’t expect CBS to go that direction.

Indeed when asked in a Bellagio hallway whether the network had any thoughts of giving the time back, Eye topper Leslie Moonves said simply: “No.”

Nonetheless, Bell pointed out he had previous success programming that time period as a station operator.

“The challenge will be finding something that is beneficial to us both,” Bell said.

In other business, Moonves also said he recognizes that repurposing primetime programming is a “legitimate” concern, along with providing a solid 10 p.m. network performance as a lead-in to the stations’ important 11 p.m. news. Net and affils also continued to agree to disagree on the issue of compensation.