Friedman’s ‘Early’ man

'Today' vet will become v.p. of morning b'cast at CBS

CBS News tapped morning show guru Steve Friedman to help lift “The Early Show” out of its perennial third-place status.

Friedman, the former “Today Show” producer who created the concept of the street-level studio, will become vice president of morning broadcast at CBS, with oversight of “The Early Show,” “The Saturday Early Show,” “CBS Morning News” and “Up to the Minute.”

“Steve is one of a small group of people who have had an enormous impact on morning television over the past few decades,” said CBS News and Sports prexy Sean McManus.

“Early Show” senior executive producer Michael Bass will retain day-to-day management of the show, while Friedman will focus on overall direction, special projects and long-term planning.

It’s the type of dual-management structure used at both ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today,” and a tacit admission that it is almost impossible for one person to cope with producing 14 hours of live television a week.

“Doing morning TV, you can’t concentrate on long-range projects because there is always an emergency,” Friedman said.

Move reunites Friedman with “The Early Show,” which he helped create in 1999, and with Bass, who worked with Friedman at NBC’s “Nightly News” and at “Today” and replaced him when Friedman left CBS in 2002.

“There is no period of adjustment,” Friedman said. “We know how each other works.”

“Today” made a similar appointment last spring when Phil Griffin was named senior VP in addition to exec producer Jim Bell, when the show was being threatened by “GMA.”

“The Early Show” is by far the youngest of the three morning shows and trails badly in the ratings. Season-to-date, “The Early Show” has been averaging 2.9 million viewers compared to 6 million for “Today” and 5.2 million for “GMA.”

CBS is closer to Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends,” which averages nearly 1 million viewers, than it is to “GMA.”

Friedman was exec producer of NBC’s “Today” from 1979-87 and, in many ways, was the architect of its dominance. He left “Today” to become exec producer of the “NBC Nightly News” and was one of the creators of NBC’s “Dateline.”

In 1993 he returned to “Today” and built the first street-level studio, which became a tourist attraction on 49th Street at Rockefeller Center. He then had stints at WCBS and Savoy Pictures.

In 1999, he helped launch “The Early Show” at CBS with a $25 million street-level studio on Fifth Avenue and served as the show’s exec producer. He left in 2002, along with anchor Bryant Gumbel.