Charlie Rose seems ubiquitous on TV these days, given his roles as a co-anchor on “CBS This Morning” and as long-running host of his own “Charlie Rose” show on PBS. At an earlier point in his career, however, he just hoped to be as successful as Phil Donahue. He received one of his first mentions in Variety back in 1979, when he took over as host of a morning show and program director at KXAS in Fort Worth, Texas. The experience would prove to be a crucial stepping-off point.
Talk about your decision to move to Fort Worth. You’d been doing a morning program in Chicago.
I wanted to host my own show. I met someone, Blake Byrne, who turned out to be from Duke, and I had graduated from Duke. He said, “Come here, I’d love to have you do a new morning program. We’ll call it ‘The Charlie Rose Show,’ and do an hour from 9 to 10.” This was the 10th biggest market. But he also wanted me to fill the role as program director, because a very important man by the name of Bob Gould had retired. I thought it was an interesting idea. You could build your own show from the ground up and try to understand more about the television business.
Was this an early predecessor to your PBS program?
It was the first time I was in control, both as executive producer as well as the host of the show. It also gave me a chance to do a lot of very different things. I had to put it together myself. I designed it, and we had a very small staff and it was a labor of love. … It was often one guest for the hour. I interviewed everybody from George Bush to Roger Staubach.
Why did you want to host your own program?
I wanted to build something that had my sensibility to it. If I admired anybody at the time, it was Phil Donahue. I went to Chicago to visit him, and I did a show with his audience. And he came to Texas to do a show with me. We had 5,000 people show up, because he was so popular.
The man you were to replace in Fort Worth, Bob Gould, was something of a broadcasting-industry legend. Did you have any trepidation about that?
He was a lovely man who was admired greatly….There was no way I was going to do that job any better than Bob Gould. That’s what he was born to do. He sort of laid the groundwork for someone to do it… I would host the show from 9 to 10, and then at 10 I would go to my office and effectively take on the role of a program director. I probably spent more time on my show than I did being program director.
Did you learn anything in Fort Worth that has informed the way you handle your duties on “CBS This Morning” or on PBS?
I honed the craft of television there. It was often one on one, whether it was with an audience or not. I had been an executive producer and managing editor for Bill Moyers, so I knew something about the craft of television, but this was where you had to do it all, and you did it every day.