ST. PETERSBURG — Want to know how tough the network TV game can be?
While the new anchors set to take over CBS' Early Show next month toured St. Petersburg affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 Friday, taking questions from staffers and trying to spark enthusiasm for the change, Tampa Bay area viewers watched one of the people they are replacing, weatherman Dave Price, bid a teary goodbye on his last day at the network.
The jarring parallel highlighted a delicate issue for the new team, anchors Erica Hill and Chris Wragge, newsreader Jeff Glor and forecaster Marysol Castro. Though their appointment was announced Nov. 30, they wouldn't take over the show from Price, Harry Smith and Maggie Rodriguez until Jan. 3.
"I was a little apprehensive about going to work (after the announcement)," said Hill, a former CNN anchor who was already the Early Show's weekday newsreader. "But they could not have been more gracious … Harry gave me a big hug and said 'Way to go, kid.' "
Joined by executive producer David Friedman, the quartet spent half the day in the Tampa Bay area Friday, logging the last stop in a five-city tour scheduled over six days, aimed at introducing the new team to local affiliates across the country. From helping at the construction site of a new playground in south St. Petersburg to appearing on WTSP's morning and noon newscasts, the four answered questions on what time they get up (around 3:30 a.m., mostly) and the challenge of improving a network program that has long languished in third place.
Along the way, they hope to develop the kind of personal bond that has become a hallmark of the most successful morning anchor teams.
The numbers tell a daunting story. On Monday, NBC issued a press released celebrating the Today show scoring No. 1 ratings every week for the past 15 years; the last time a CBS morning anchor came to WTSP for a little outreach, it was Today alum Bryant Gumbel in 1999, touting a reinvention of the network's A.M. program with a new name: The Early Show.
"It's a monumental task, but nothing says that, at some point, things can't change," said Wragge, sitting in the same conference room at WTSP where Gumbel sat 11 years ago. "We're not expecting an immediate change overnight, but we know we're going to be in a better position than we're in right now. It's just going to take a little bit of time."
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WFTS-Ch. 28 anchor John Thomas will return to his job anchoring the Tampa ABC affiliate's A.M. newscasts this morning, restored to on-air duties after pleading no contest to reckless driving charges in connection with an arrest for drunken driving. A station official said that since Thomas will keep his license and agreed to a lesser charge, he was approved to appear on camera.
An employee at WFTS (also known as ABC Action News) since 1999, Thomas was taken off air in July after the arrest, working behind the scenes. He appeared on camera last month as the subject of a story; helping rescue a woman and child from an exploded watercraft in Apollo Beach.