CBS 'Early Show' Exec: Why Maggie Rodriguez and Harry Smith Had to Go

Jeff Neira/CBS

CBS' The Early Show broadcasts life from Miami Florida, home of Super Bowl XLIV, Thursday Feb 4, 2010 on the CBS Television Network.

“Obviously if things were quote-unquote ‘working’ we wouldn’t make changes,” David Friedman tells THR.

CBS News is cleaning house at the Early Show. The program, which has languished in third place behind NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America, will install new co-hosts Chris Wragge and Erica Hill, with Jeff Glor and Marysol Castro joining the show as news reader and weather anchor, respectively.

The change sweeps out current co-hosts Harry Smith and Maggie Rodriguez and is only the latest facelift for a show that has weathered multiple changes in front and behind the cameras including multiple anchor and executive producer changes.

David Friedman, who joined Early as executive producer 11 months ago, said that while the changes may seem rather abrupt, they were undertaken with a lot of careful consideration.

“I think it feels sudden because there are multiple people and it feels like a big deal,” he said. “But three of the four of them are very familiar to our viewers and to CBS News.”

Wragge and Hill, a former CNN anchor, have co-anchored the Saturday Early Show since 2008. And Hill has been the news reader on the weekday edition of the Early Show since January. Jeff Glor, who has anchored the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News since 2009, becomes the news anchor, replacing Hill. And Marysol Castro, who was a weather and features correspondent at the weekend edition of ABC’s Good Morning America, will replace Dave Price.

But the change, which has actually been a topic of discussion at CBS News for some time, according to sources, also underscores the critical importance of chemistry in morning television.

“These shows are about the team,” said Friedman. “It’s about finding the right team.”

And if ratings are any indication, the third-place Early Show, has struggled to find that elusive morning show simpatico. Last season (Sept. 2009-Sept. 2010) marked the show’s lowest average audience since the 2000-01 season averaging 2.5 million viewers.

“Obviously if things were quote unquote working we wouldn’t make changes,” said Friedman, adding that when he arrived at the program he “looked at many different aspects of the show and tried to figure out what needed to be changed.”

“Everything was considered,” he said. And while he stopped short of saying the show was broken, he did allow, “we weren’t getting the results that we hoped to get.”

Morning shows are critically important to the bottom line of news division because with multiple hours or air time they have the opportunity to bring in the lion’s share of ad revenue. Still, Friedman said the new anchor configuration does not come with a strict ratings mandate from his bosses at CBS News.

“My mandate is a solid show,” he said. “Ratings are obviously important. But as a producer I focus on the content and the quality of our broadcast. No one has said to me, hey in the first six months after this change you need to hit this and in nine months you need to hit this. I hope that doesn’t happen because I don’t think that’s a way to approach a show. That being said, we obviously want to see our ratings grow. That’s what this game is all about. But I’d like to say that the broadcast is going to continue to improve and with that will come better ratings.”