'Early Show' changes present public affairs opportunities

CBS' move to recreate 'The Early Show' as a hard-news alternative to rival morning programs is a positive development for communications professionals representing clients in corporate and public affairs.

CBS' move to recreate The Early Show as a hard-news alternative to rival morning programs is a positive development for communications professionals representing clients in the corporate and public affairs spaces.  

The network has hired Charlie Rose and Gayle King to anchor the program's 7 am and 8 am hours, respectively. It also brought on Chris Licht, the former producer of MSNBC's Morning Joe, which shook up the morning-show format with an ensemble approach targeting influencers and opinion leaders. CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager predicts in a statement that the relaunched show will be “interesting and compelling and on top of the big stories of the day,” as well as “worth your while.”

“CBS has shifted away from the one-size-fits-all network morning show,” says Ryan Richert, SVP of media at Edelman and a former CBS affiliate news reporter. “CBS is clearly gunning for that hard-news audience.”

The changes, made as CBS' Early Show continues to lag behind ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today in the ratings, could present opportunities for PR firms, in particular those that are significant players in the public affairs space.

“For more serious announcements, it is really tough to get on a morning show like Today. They have just the first half hour of hard news, and then you're also competing with all the celebrity scandals and controversies,” adds Richert. “CBS will offer us a differentiated option to pitch in morning TV…It will also give us a network alternative to Morning Joe and CNN.”

However, media relations professionals will first need to re-establish relationships with the CBS morning show team, including Licht and other recently hired senior staff members.

“Clearly, I think CBS is still working on its mission, but I think job one as media-relations professionals is to find out what they're doing differently,” says Bill Zucker, Midwest director for Ketchum and a former broadcast news producer.

He adds that PR professionals may also be able to gain clients increased exposure through both The Early Show and Rose's PBS program, which could help to negate the network's ratings disadvantage in terms of attracting newsmakers.

“When someone has a really big story to tell, and they want to give an exclusive, CBS is typically not the first option for that because of its audience size,” says Zucker. “But I think we may end up seeing some coordination between CBS and PBS, in which they say to someone, ‘If you do the interview with us first, we'll extend the reach to two different broadcasts.'”

While Rose is expected to attract A-list interview subjects, media relations professionals are less certain about what to expect from CBS' second hour with King, who also hosts a live show on the Oprah Winfrey Network and a radio program on XM Satellite Radio.   

Tom Martin, president of boutique firm Tom Martin Media and a former producer for all three major networks, says King is known by most consumers as Winfrey's best friend. But that's only half the story, he adds.

“She hasn't been given enough credit for the ideas she talks about on her radio show, like the stress of the economy on relationships,” he says. “She is actually very good on substantive issues. She is not all about makeovers and car giveaways.”

Martin adds that King will be a good fit with Rose because they will take serious looks at subjects like health and wellness and personal improvement, in addition to hard-news topics.

“I think the show will become one about ideas,” he predicts.

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