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CBS taps Ross for ‘Early Show’

Former 'Good Morning' producer to be given rein

CBS News is expected to announce it has named former “Good Morning America” exec producer Shelley Ross to run “The Early Show,” in the second major shakeup at the third-place breakfastcast in two years.

The network had planned to name Ross this week but delayed the formal announcement until after Labor Day. Ross is expected to replace CBS News veep Steve Friedman and senior exec producer Michael Bass; it was unclear whether Friedman or Bass would leave or be reassigned within the net.

Friedman is halfway through a three-year deal; Bass’ contract expires in December.

Ross had been in talks with both CBS and NBC since her departure from ABC/Disney, but talks with CBS heated up over the past few months.

One potential roadblock had been the pending publication of Edward Klein’s unflattering biography of Katie Couric, in which Ross is extensively quoted. But Ross’ comments were primarily in the context of the competition between “Good Morning America” and “Today,” and Couric didn’t oppose her hiring.

It will be the second big change in the morning under CBS News and Sports prexy Sean McManus, who added oversight of the news division after the departure of former president Andrew Heyward in 2005.

In 2006 McManus brought in Friedman, a morning show innovator who built NBC’s street-level studio at 30 Rock, in hopes he could bring some of the showbiz glitz of the “Today” plaza to the General Motors building where “The Early Show” is produced.

Since then, ratings for “The Early Show” have crept up, but not enough to materially effect the morning show pecking order, and sources complained the show was handicapped in competing for big-name bookings against “Today” and “GMA.”

In hiring Couric away from “Today,” CBS did more damage to NBC’s ayem franchise than any programming competition from “The Early Show.”

Ratings at “Today” have fallen 8% over the course of the year since the departure of Couric last summer. But “GMA,” which lost co-anchor Charles Gibson to “World News” last summer, has also lost viewers, allowing “Today” to keep its 10-year winning streak intact.

As of last week, “Today” was averaging 4.9 million total viewers and “GMA” 4.6 million, while CBS’ “Early Show” averaged 2.5 million.

Both “Today” and “GMA” lost viewers in the 25-54 demo last week, while CBS gained 13%. Given declines at “Today,” CBS execs were disappointed “The Early Show” wasn’t adding more viewers faster.

CBS’ ayemer is in a position similar to that of “GMA” when Ross took over that show in 1999, when ABC considered canceling the lackluster show and turning the time period over to entertainment.

Over the next five years, Ross turned the show around with aggressive booking and a demanding management style and made it a credible competitor to “Today.”

But her style grated on some within ABC News, and in 2004 Ross was shifted to head the newsmagazine “Primetime.”

In 2006, with “Primetime” set to be cancelled, Ross was shifted into an entertainment job at ABC where she produced specials such as “David Blaine: Drowned Alive.”

Sources close to Ross said she is eager to return to the morning show wars to take on her former employer.

On Jan. 7, CBS will take back airtime it had previously given to its affiliates during the mornings, a move considered essential to boosting national ratings for the show.

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