MEDIA: More company at breakfast time: CBS’s Early Show

Mariah may have switched to its rival morning show at the last minute, but the execs at the Early Show intend to the teach Today a lesson in more than manners. Claire Atkinson tells you how to approach this newcomer to the 7 to 9 am scene.

Mariah may have switched to its rival morning show at the last minute, but the execs at the Early Show intend to the teach Today a lesson in more than manners. Claire Atkinson tells you how to approach this newcomer to the 7 to 9 am scene.

Mariah may have switched to its rival morning show at the last

minute, but the execs at the Early Show intend to the teach Today a

lesson in more than manners. Claire Atkinson tells you how to approach

this newcomer to the 7 to 9 am scene.

When CBS relaunched its daily morning show last month it made the

headlines, not because of what was on it but because of what wasn’t.

Celebrity publicity house PMK had scheduled a live performance by singer

Mariah Carey for the debut on November 1, but whisked her away to rival

Today show at the last minute.

PMK claimed that CBS had not secured permission from the city for an

outdoor concert. But the decision may have been partly influenced by the

agency’s desire to rebuild bridges with the Today show, after its

executive producer publicly said he would no longer speak to chief Pat


CBS’s new offering is called the Early Show, and senior executive

producer Steve Friedman is charged with catapulting the network back

into the morning race after an average performance by its predecessor,

CBS This Morning.

Friedman is philosophical about the loss of Mariah: ’You can’t hold

grudges,’ he says. Not, at least, when you’re the third-place morning

show, trailing NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America.

To be fair, the Early Show did a good job of getting an array of heavy

hitters on in its first week. The show’s two anchors, former Today host

Bryant Gumbel, and Jane Clayson, spent the first week interviewing

President Clinton and presidential front runners, Al Gore, George Bush,

Bill Bradley and John McCain.

While PMK representatives often quote comparative ratings points when

negotiating slots for guests, Friedman’s view is that ratings should not

be the only consideration for publicists. ’Most people show up for the

ones who asked them first,’ he says. And, the show hasn’t been short of

celebrities, with Chris Rock, Darryl Strawberry and Will Smith turning

up in the first few weeks.

So why has CBS decided to reevaluate its approach to this 7 am to 9 am

slot? ’People are getting up earlier and they don’t want to leave the

house dumb,’ says Friedman, adding that breakfast ratings have grown

considerably over the last few years.

Though it’s too early to see how the Early Show compares to its

predecessor, it has, during its first two weeks, increased average

ratings from 2.4 to 2.6, which translates roughly to 2.6 million

households. According to Nielsen Media Research, Today pulled in a five

for the period November 1 to 12, while Good Morning America came in

second with a 3.6 rating.

Friedman is undaunted by the size of the gap. His short-term goal is to

move the show to number two, though he accepts that this will take time.

’Grant Tinker (former NBC program chief) said once, ’First you’ll be

best, then you’ll be first,’’ he says.

Kevin Goldman, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, now senior vice

president of communications at Priceline WebHouse Club, says: ’The

problem they have is that people are very loyal to Today. They get out

of bed with Katie and Matt.’

But Goldman wonders what will happen to Good Morning America when

interim anchors Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer move on, and says that

Friedman is a force to be reckoned with: ’Steve Friedman is very

motivated. He has shown he can start something from nothing. Everyone

ought to let the show develop.’

Today show executive producer Jeff Zucker may be wondering how much

erosion the number-one show is going to experience. ’We are being pushed

by the competition,’ he admitted at a recent conference. ’With

everything success is hard to sustain. It is good to be pushed.’

Friedman has a varied TV background. He was executive producer of the

Today show for almost eight years until 1987 and is credited with taking

the show to its number-one position through innovations such as the

glass-front studio. He was also a creator of NBC’s Dateline, but left

the network following a falling out with NBC Nightly News president Andy

Lack. Friedman then joined Savoy Pictures’ TV unit before landing in

1997 at CBS as the general manager of its New York affiliate.

He lives a four-minute walk from the Early Show office on the seventh

floor of the General Motors building, near Central Park. He rises at

5:30 am to organize the 20-odd segment producers for the 7 am kickoff.

When the show closes two hours later the team plans the next day’s


Friedman is polite and amiable and a great interview, since he tends to

talk in sound bites. But he advises PR executives to build relationships

with his production staff rather than contacting him. The two-hour show

has a huge appetite for ideas but he says to first find out whether

there’s any interest before sending a press kit.

The show has a selection of special guest contributors, including Martha

Stewart. It also uses book authors, magazine editors - InStyle executive

editor Charla Lawhon gave advice about Thanksgiving entertaining - and

food gurus such as New York chef Bobby Flay.

If you are trying to place your client on several shows, it’s unlikely

you’ll be picked up unless the guest is particularly newsworthy. Both

Friedman and Zucker claim they almost never have the same guests; once

viewers have seen an item they won’t watch it again on another


Friedman’s advice is: ’Be honest.’ He knows who is appearing on his

rivals’ shows. While he pleads with publicists to be willing to share

segments with other guests, he says that for people whom the show is

really interested in, he has the luxury of offering more time. Most

segments last around five minutes.

Though the Early Show has a long way to go before it’s established with

viewers, it’s worth remembering that if the show is good enough for the

president and presidential hopefuls, it’s probably good enough for your



CBS Early Show

GM Building

7th floor

524 West 57th St.

New York, NY 10019

Tel: (212) 975 2824

Fax: (212) 975 2115


Senior executive producer: Steve Friedman

Executive producer: Al Berman

Senior producer: Alexandra Wallace

Senior producer (hard news): Laura Dubowski

Senior producer (contributors): Janice De Rosa

Producer (publishing): Carol Story

Producer (entertainment): Andrew Cohen

Producer (health): Patricia Olsen

Financial correspondents: Brian Finnerty and Ray Martin

Movie correspondent: Gail O’Neill

Pop-culture correspondent: Laurie Hibberd

Parenting correspondents: Martha Quinn and Lisa Birnbach

Broadcast associate: Vincent Zappier.

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