Beginning Monday (Jan. 7) CBS' Early Show will launch a new format with a new anchor, taking the first step in a renewed effort to build a national profile—and a bigger audience.
Maggie Rodriguez, who co-anchored the Saturday Early Show, officially takes over for Hannah Storm, who left the broadcast in early December. Rodriguez came to CBS News in June from the CBS O&O WFOR in Miami. She joins co-anchors Harry Smith and Julie Chen.
The morning news also-ran had been hamstrung by a long-standing affiliate agreement that lets stations insert local content into the first hour of the show. That agreement, which encompassed 43 stations, essentially shoe-horned the Early Show into one hour at 8 a.m. in about 23% of the country.
Shelley Ross, veteran ABC News executive producer who was hired in September to remake the Early Show, has had frank discussions with executives at many of the affiliates who agreed to dump their long-standing morning shows.
"We can never grow as a show until we get over that hurdle," Ross says. "But I think Monday morning there are going to be people in Las Vegas and Baltimore and Nashville who wake up and their favorite local anchor that they see in restaurants and bump into at the dry cleaner, isn't going to be there. And we understand that viewers will go through a period of adjustment. But we hope that we have a strong alternative."
Ross has already put her stamp on the Early Show, aggressively pursuing newsmaker interviews, which has translated into a new urgency. Season to date, the show is up 9% in women 25-54.
Ross is not expecting an immediate ratings jump. "Our expectations are actually for our ratings to decline," she says. "We will take a step backwards before we move forward. It's a slow build and that's all we hope for."
Ross is no stranger to the morning show wars. She took over as the executive producer of Good Morning America in 1999 with the then-new anchor team of Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson. Ross turned GMA into a contender, battling NBC's Today for guests and viewers.
"I don't think anything was more competitive than when I sat in the control room at ABC and Jeff Zucker sat in the control room at NBC," she laughs. "That was something. It was exciting."
Not that she misses the pressure.
"You miss that like you miss nine-inch nails being pounded into the soles of your feet."
The goal is to make the Early Show newsier. The superficial overhaul—a new set, new music and graphics to match the set and even a Peter Max triptych graphic— are part of the wrapping.
"I never knew a television show that grew because you changed the furniture or the music," she says. "But I do think it's an important layer of a message that says we care about being new and fresh and we're not your grandmother's morning show."