CBS unveiled another massive revamp of its morning program The Early Show, giving the boot to the three-fourths of its on-air team not married to CBS CEO Les Moonves: Harry Smith, Maggie Rodriguez and Dave Price.
In a story first broken by the Associated Press, CBS acknowledged Tuesday that weekend anchors Erica Hill and Chris Wragge will replace Smith, Rodriguez and Price on Jan. 3. Additionally, CBS Evening News weekend anchor Jeff Glor takes over as newsreader and Marysol Castro, comes over from the weekend edition of ABC's Good Morning America as weather forecaster.
The move unseats the show's longest-serving anchor, Smith, in the chair since 2002. And it may mystify those who follow the morning news game.
Because CBS is essentially exchanging people with some name recognition — Price and Smith especially — for lesser known weekend talent now competing directly with morning stars Matt Lauer at NBC and George Stephanopoulos at ABC.
"When I started almost a year ago, I would get asked 'How are you going to fix the show?' But it's a good morning show," said executive producer David Friedman, who stressed that the new anchor lineup is filled with people who have regularly appeared on the show. "This team brings a tremendous energy and excitement and a chemistry that will be refreshing. It's about the future."
It's also the kind of wholesale change made possible by the shifting duties of an important player, former Early Show co-anchor Julie "Mrs. Moonves" Chen. When Chen downsized her Early Show work to join the network's new daytime chat show, The Talk, the way was paved for big changes that did not involve a top executive's spouse (Friedman said Chen's status wasn't a factor in their decisions).
CBS morning shows have been third-place finishers for a long time; everyone from former Today show host Bryant Gumbel to current ABC anchor Diane Sawyer has tried reviving the franchise. But the AP noted in the week before Thanksgiving, NBC's Today drew 5.6 million viewers, ABC got 4.6 million and CBS earned just 2.9 million; locally, the show placed fifth among morning news shows in November.
The network says it will find new roles for Price and Rodriguez — network-speak for "they still have time on their contracts" — while Smith gets an expanded role as substitute anchor for Katie Couric's CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer's Face the Nation and Charles Osgood's Sunday Morning. Why does this sound like a game of musical chairs where someone got caught without a seat?
Or, perhaps, like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?