CBS News Banking on Charlie Rose and Gayle King to Shake Up Morning News

Charlie Rose Gayle King - H 2011
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Charlie Rose Gayle King - H 2011

"This is a big deal. It really deserves 150 percent focus," says King, who will give up her radio show and OWN program.

NEW YORK – There will be no weatherman, no street-side studio, no couch and no cooking segments on the new CBS morning show.

“This show is going to be about who we are; original reporting and great storytelling,” said CBS News chairman Jeff Fager.

The show, with a news title that is still to be determined, will bow Jan. 9 with Charlie Rose and Gayle King joining Erica Hill as co-anchors of the program.

The worst-kept secret in New York media world was finally confirmed Tuesday at a luncheon press conference at the news division’s 57th Street headquarters where CBS executives and the morning anchors took questions from reporters.

Rose said he did not hesitate when Fager – who has worked with Rose since 1999 when Fager recruited him to join now-defunct 60 Minutes II – pronounced himself “thrilled” to join the news division full-time.

“CBS has a new spirit today,” said Rose, noting that the news division under Fager is “building on the tradition” established by industry stalwarts including Walter Cronkite.

Rose will continue to anchor his PBS program. And he says that gossip about his busy night life is largely overblown.

“I do not have the kind of lifestyle that many people imagine me to have,” she said, adding that he rises between 5-6 a.m. most days. He did say that he would have to curtail his travel for interviews and on the conference and speaker circuit.

King, however, will give up her radio show and her OWN program, though she said she has yet to finalize an end-date for the programs.

“I really loved doing radio,” she said. “But right now I’m going to concentrate on this. This is a big deal; I do not play this small. It really deserves 150 percent focus.”

King did not seek advice from her good friend Oprah Winfrey when she was considering the CBS News offer.

“I was sworn to secrecy,” she said, but she added, “Oprah is definitely in my corner.”

And viewers should not be surprised to see Winfrey on CBS from time to time, though it won’t be a regular occurrence and will be done only when there is a compelling reason to do so, said King.

Apparently the feeling is mutual. In a statement, OWN co-presidents Sheri Salata and Erik Logan, said: “Although her show will not continue on OWN, we look forward to her joining us from time to time as her schedule allows.”

Also in attendance at the CBS press conference were correspondents Jeff Glor, Rebecca Jarvis and John Martin, who recently joined the network after a long career at ABC News. Scott Pelley and Evening News executive producer Pat Shevlin also sat in the front row, driving home the point that CBS News under Fager and president David Rhodes – who took the helm of the division last February – is about serious stories and rigorous reporting. 

“This is a bold move for CBS News,” said Rhodes. “But it’s consistent with who we are. We think it will be the best-produced program in television news.”

Chris Licht, who came aboard last June from MSNBC, where he was the mastermind behind Morning Joe, will be the executive producer of the new program. And he personally recruited King to the news division.

"I first fell in love with Gayle on Morning Joe when she was a guest and just popped off the screen," said Licht.

“We’re going to do a program that is compelling and relevant and will hopefully make a connection with viewers in the morning,” he added. “And I’m really looking forward to getting up at 4:30 in the morning again.”

CBS News has been an also ran in the morning for decades. For the first six weeks of the season, the Early Show is averaging 2.4 million viewers with 1 million in the 25-54 demographic that news programs target. Those mark declines of six percent and eight percent, respectively.

“Distant third,” said Fager, is a “phrase I hate hearing.”

“In news we’ve got a great tradition. In primetime we’re No. 1,” he says. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

This will be the second on-air shakeup for the CBS morning program in as many years, a significant amount of upheaval in the staid world of TV news where anchors tend to stay put for several years. But by re-imagining morning TV, CBS News executives hope they can connect with new viewers who may not have already formed attachments to its broadcast competitors on NBC and ABC. Fager noted that the anchor change last January – which saw Harry Smith, Maggie Rodriguez and weather reporter Dave Price axed in favor of Hill and WCBS anchor Chris Wragge – was a cosmetic change. This time, they’re rebuilding the show from the ground up. That includes a brand new studio and adjacent news room at the CBS News broadcast center. (A tour of the space revealed that there is much work to do before the space is TV ready. Workers in hard-hats are still dismantling plaster that covered the original exposed brick walls.)

The hope is that Rose and King can bring the right mix of intelligent conversation and compelling newsmaker interviews while continuing to tackle the serious news that CBS News broadcasts have increasingly emphasized under Fager and Rhodes.

“What you’re going to see in the morning is a program that’s very different, that doesn’t try to copy what’s already out there,” said Fager. “It will be real news, hard news, but it’s not going to be all serious.”

Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie