There will be a surprising new face waiting to greet viewers at “CBS This Morning.”
Nate Burleson, the former NFL wide receiver and current CBS Sports football analyst, is joining the program, according to three people familiar with the matter. These people said Burleson is seen as a potential successor to some of the current anchors at the show, and the move will break up the current group of co-anchors: Gayle King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil. Mason, a veteran CBS News correspondent who has filled many roles, including as interim anchor of “CBS Evening News,” is expected to depart and take on a new role as a cultural correspondent. King, who has been with “CBS This Morning” since 2012 and has stood at the center of the show since it was revamped following the departure of Charlie Rose, has a contract that ends next year.
CBS News declined to make executives available for comment. CBS said Wednesday morning that the company had signed Burleson to a long-term deal that would have him co-anchor “CBS This Morning,” while continuing in his role as an analyst at CBS Sports’ “The NFL Today” while making regular appearances on the company’s sibling kids network, Nickelodeon. Burleson’s role at NFL Network, where he also works, will also expand.
The anchor switch is another big move by CBS News under the management of new senior executives, Neeraj Khemlani, a former Hearst Newspapers executive, and Wendy McMahon, the former head of ABC’s TV stations. People familiar with the news division say Khemlani has been particularly focused on viewership data and the financial details of each news program. Jay Shaylor, who had been the executive producer of “CBS Evening News,” left the company in July as part of the duo’s work to recalibrate the news division.
The addition of Burleson would take the sober-minded morning program further from its roots. As originally conceived, “CBS This Morning” is supposed to provide a hard-news alternative to its main rivals, ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today,” which rely as heavily on summer concerts, cooking segments and social media round-ups as they do on giving viewers a morning update on all breaking news of import. “CBS This Morning” is expected in the fall to move to a new studio in Times Square that once housed MTV’s “TRL” and can be seen from the windows of the New York set that houses “GMA” just a few blocks away.
Aficionados of the show may already be familiar with Burleson. He helped fill in while co-anchor Tony Dokoupil was on paternity leave, part of a test that had celebrities and others who do not hail from traditional journalism hanging out during the program’s 8 a.m. hour. He has also gained notice in the sports world, where he recently helped lead a unique sports broadcast of an NFL Wild Card Game aimed at the young viewers of Nickelodeon, also part of CBS News’ corporate parent.
CBS appears to be borrowing a page from a more successful rival. Michael Strahan, the former New York Giant and current Fox Sports football analyst, is an integral part of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The CBS program has consistently lagged its broadcast competitors in the ratings, but gets plaudits for many of King’s interviews and for emphasizing stories about international affairs and business.
Shawna Thomas, who joined “CBS This Morning” as executive producer in January, told Variety in a May interview that “CBS This Morning” wasn’t getting soft. “We have longer, more in-depth pieces” than others, she said. “I am unwilling to sacrifice that kind of storytelling,” because “it is still our differentiator. This isn’t a knock on cooking segments by any means. They have their place. It’s just not necessarily us.”