Hardest Working Guy at CBS News Named Early Show Anchor
Affable anchor Russ Mitchell said when CBS announced his new gig as news anchor for the Early Show -- also noting that he will continue to serve as anchor of the CBS Evening News on Sunday, contribute stories to CBS News Sunday Morning and work in the rotation of co-anchors for the weekend Evening News -- he got an email from a friend.
"The subject line was: 'You're nuts,'" said Mitchell, who just married producer Karina Mahtani recently. "The truth of the matter is, many of my colleagues, I would say most of my colleagues, work six and seven days a week. Let’s face it; this is the big time. When you sign on to be a correspondent at the network, you’re going to work hard. I’ve worked six- and seven-day weeks continuously for the past nine or ten years. It’s kind of the way the business operates. And I certainly spoke about this with my new bride before I took the job. Didn’t want to mess that up right away."
Mitchell and I were talking mostly for a column I've assembled for Monday's paper on CBS and its on air diversity -- mostly an expansion of thoughts I wrote about earlier this week in this space.
But along the way, we were able to discuss many other aspects of his new job. So, since I only had room to drop one last-minute quote into my newspaper column, I figured I'd share more of the interview here.
ME: You've been in a position to join the weekday newscast before, back in 1997 before they hired Bryant Gumbel to lead a revamped Early Show. Have you felt like a perpetual bridesmaid sometimes?
Mitchell: " I anchor the CBS Sunday Evening News -- if that’s being a bridesmaid, I’ll take it every single day of the week....(but) you always want to go to that next level. When Bryant left – I’ve been there for 15 years. You wouldn’t be a competitve person if you didn’t take those situations and look at them and say, 'Wow I would love to do that,' of course. There have been those moments when you go for a job, you try your best to get it and it doesn’t work out. In this business, it’s all about timing...and this seems like a good time.”
Were you worried that the press speculation didn't include your name?
Mitchell: "“Quite honestly, the press doesn’t sign my paycheck. I love you guys, I think you guys are great...(but) at the end of the day, it’s not about what you guys speculate, it’s about what really happens. If we want to talk about all the people, not including myself, who have been talked about as heir apparents for jobs at CBS, NBC and ABC and didn’t get them, we could talk all day.”
But some people seem to think they may have a better chance at such jobs, if the press builds a buzz around their name.
Mitchell: "If I was 35 years old, I might feel that way. I may say, 'Oh wow, my name’s not being talked about, that’s just terrible.' But I’m 46 years old (laughs) and I’ve been doing this for 25 years and it's kinda like trial and error. You live a little and you learn a little.”
Steve Friedman, the executive in charge of relaunching the Early Show Jan. 2, said "we've had four people doing 2.3 jobs" and "they're interchangeable." Does that give you pause as you move into helping with the 2.3 jobs?
"“I’m not going to speak for steve. I think what he’s was trying to say is he’s trying to differentiate the players on the broadcast. Each player will have a defined role. He’s trying to create a broadcast where you have four people who have roles that are clearly definable.”
Don't your competitors have people sharing many different roles as well?
“Again, I don’t want to speak for steve – its his plan and his vision. This particular configuration of the broadcast has never had a newsreader. From what I understand, Steve is taking four players on this broadcast and giving them all defineable jobs. Obviously you have to know how to do to be able to do everything. And I think one of the reasons that those people are there, one of the reasons I’m there, is that we’ve all proven that we can do everything. I do think that Steve is looking for some definition."
With Rene Syler leaving the Early Show and Ed Bradley's passing last month, two of the network's highest-profile black journalists have left the building. You're the third. Does this indicate CBS has a problem developing a bench of talented journalists of color?
“CBS, like anyplace else, has made progress…but there’s still progress to be made. I’m confident that will happen. There are several people at CBS who would qualify as being strong players for the future. I’ve gotta believe we will continue to get more. I think that, given the role some of us have been given, it’s a step in the right direction….It’s not really my place to sit here and give you names of people. The fact that I am the anchor of this Sunday night broadcast, which has been a position that over the years has been held by some pretty impressive people, I think says a lot...(And) I got the job because they thought I could do it.”
Isn't it odd, though, that for the first time in 25 years there won't be a person of color who serves as a regular correspodent on 60 Minutes?
"“I would take it a step further. I don’t think there’s a lot of people black, white, green or or blue who could replace Ed Bradley. I don’t think it’s a color issue at this point – you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who could replace Ed Bradley. He in many ways was irreplaceable."
Departing Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler has publicly acknowledged she was preparing to have a double mastectomy when CBS executives declined to renew her contract. Are you concerned at all about coming to the show following someone who left under such delicate circumstances?
“Rene’s a great lady, I enjoyed working with her. And it’s unfortunate I won’t be able to work with her again.I’m sure the way this business is, our paths will cross again. I was offered a job, it’s a good job and I decided to take it."