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Who's in at Early Show?

With its founding executive producer Steve Friedman and star host Bryant Gumbel set to depart on or about the first of June, the future direction of CBS's The Early Show
is, once again, up in the air.

Some affiliates are hoping for a new, bold and outside-the-box kind of strategy. CBS rules out nothing. But incoming executive producer Michael Bass says whatever he does is going to be evolutionary.

"This is not a new canvas," says Bass, a Today
show veteran, who credits Friedman for making CBS competitive in content, if not ratings. "There's already a painting, and we'll start with some retouching and see where we go from there."

Deciding how to fill Gumbel's role could trigger a complete on-air makeover for the show.

CBS higher-ups are highly interested in signing Meredith Vieira, transformed by ABC's The View
into a daytime TV star. Among the questions if they are able to sign her—and that's far from a done deal: Would they pair her with Jane Clayson, the existing co-host of The Early Show, or find a suitable male companion?

Conventional wisdom has it that boy-girl anchor teams work best for morning news shows (Katie-Matt, Diane-Charlie, etc.). Not that they've done much for CBS, but the network has never paired two female co-costs for the 7 a.m.-9 a.m. morning news block.

Maybe it's time they tried. Although with Vieira, there's another issue—family time. It's why she quit 60 Minutes
several years back, much to the dismay of Don Hewitt and Mike Wallace, among others, who thought she should have known what she was getting into (show first, then life). With the morning gig, she'd be getting up way before the kids and not likely done for the day in time to pick them at school. She wasn't talking last week.

In any event, Clayson thinks she'll stay put at her post. She told the New York Post, "I'm not worried. I think I will be there." The reaction from CBS was noncommittal. "Jane has done a good job, but the focus right now is on Bryant's replacement," said one network official.

Paul Karpowicz, vice president, LIN Television, sees a unique opportunity to come up with an alternative. "They really ought to take a hard look at a lot of different things," he said. "It will be a huge uphill battle just to do a copycat show." No doubt it will be a topic of discussion at CBS's May affiliate meeting.

Friedman's happy that he and Gumbel established a "foundation" for Bass. "This run is over and we're moving on," he said. Friedman, who produced Today
for most of the 1980s and part of the 1990s when it began its domination, launched The Early Show
in November 1999.

Bass was senior broadcast producer at Today
from 1995-2000 and acting executive producer from December 2000 to May 2001 when Jonathan Wald shifted from top producer at NBC Nightly News
to top producer at Today.