Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winners and Losers in The Early Show Shuffle

But After All is Said and Done, Will It Amount to Anything?

Now that CBS plans to give the umpteenth makeover to "The Early Show," it's a good time to look at who over on West 57th St. is having a good day after today's announcement, and who needs a hug.

First, the soon-to-depart:

Harry Smith: He's been a good soldier and then some, toiling away on the show since 2002, with a steady parade of co-hosts. Of course, he's been down this road before, when he was on "CBS This Morning" from 1987-96. So, now he gets to sleep in, while serving as a national correspondent and the primary fill-in on the "CBS Evening News," "Sunday Morning" and "Face the Nation." Pretty sweet deal, and he may just be biding his time until June, when Katie Couric's contract expires. There's little doubt her tenure as "Evening News" anchor will end then, and she'll be in a drastically different and less-remunerative role at the network should she stay.

Maggie Rodriguez: She's also been a fill-in anchor at "Evening News," but too low-profile to get the chair full-time. As of now, she will be reassigned, though to points unknown. Since she's been an anchor, hard to believe she'd go back in the field. In this business, you save face above all else.

Dave Price: He broadened his portfolio to go beyond weather, and became sort of a wacky features guy as well. To wit, a repeat of his stunt from last year where he gets plunked in Alaska, and then has $50 and his resourcefulness to find a way home. The CBS press release said he'd slide into a new, undefined role. But it's doubtful there's one there for the taking to match his skill set.

Chris Wragge (above right): He's been doing "The Saturday Early Show" for a while, displaying a remarkable amount of spunk for someone who'd been doing the 11 p.m. news on WCBS-TV just hours before. But he's shown his versatility at channel 2, having first arrived as a sportscaster and did well enough to be the star anchor.

Erica Hill (above left): She had teamed with Wragge on Saturdays, and the chemistry was there. Hill's a gamer, and can be as credible interviewing a senator as she is deft handling cooking segments. Now sliding over from the newsreader position to co-anchor, it's a transition that should prove seamless.

Marysol Castro: Upgrade. She's been toiling for years as the weekend weather gal on "Good Morning America Weekend." Now she finally gets a weekday gig, more bucks and not have to leave her husband to deal with their kids on weekend mornings.

Jeff Glor: He takes over as weekday news reader. Indications are he'll get out of anchoring the Saturday "Evening News," though they may call on him to take one for the team and anchor holidays, like he did on Thanksgiving.

A few questions: Will all this shuffling make a difference? In a word, no.
CBS is averaging 2.7 million viewers in the morning, compared to 4.3 million at ABC and a whopping 5.3 million for the gang at the money machine known as "Today" on NBC.
There's nothing wrong with freshening a show's look and feel, but nothing is being put on the table that will a meaningful dent in the Nielsens.
The new, um, cast can do a workmanlike show and not embarrass the network or themselves. But, for now, they offer no reason for someone currently watching one of the other shows (or a local breakfast show, or "Morning Joe" or "Fox and Friends") a compelling reason to defect.
The strategy may be to concede third place, but make it a more respectable third than it is now.
CBS will also now have to find another anchor for the Saturday "Early Show" as well as a high-profile anchor for WCBS-TV. Those have also been positions that have been anything but stable over the years.

Somewhere, Captain Kangaroo is having a good chuckle.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winning Headline of the Day

For a front-page refer in The New York Times about police cracking down on locals playing chess in an upper Manhattan playground:

Police! Drop the Pawn!

Curiously changed online to:

'Police! Step Away From the Chess Table'

First attempt was check and mate.

Ex Times-Picayune Photographer Offers a Troubling Word Picture

What Happens When You Get Too Close to Your Sources

Alex Brandon, who worked for the New Orleans Times-Picayune post-Katrina, testified yesterday in a federal trial for five current or former NOLA cops accused in the death of a man in Algiers in the days after the hurricane's mayhem.
Brandon was embedded with the police department's SWAT team when he came upon an incident with two men on the ground in handcuffs jawing at police. One of the cops on trial told him not to take a picture, and Brandon obeyed. "It was, for lack of a better term, an order."
Putting aside the wisdom of following the order, what troubles me is this graf from the Times-Picayune story on the trial:

As a Times-Picayune photographer for 10 years, Brandon was well known (sic) for his extensive network of police contacts. He was also close to many police officers, a fact he testified to on Wednesday, saying he considered many of the SWAT officers to be "good friends."

Brandon now works for the AP in Washington, so the big stink he would have set off in the T-P newsroom from that statement was averted. Or could Brandon have returned to his office odor-free? Maybe Brandon's editors knew he was cozy with the cops, and exploited that so he could get up close and personal during Katrina's desperate hours. Perhaps the thought is in situations like this that expediency trumps integrity every time. Nonetheless, it does take some of the sheen of the T-P's yeoman coverage five years ago.

There's nothing wrong with being cordial, civil, even avuncular with the subjects you cover. Go ahead and like them. Hell, even admire their accomplishments. But whatever you do, don't become their friends. Then you're done as a journalist, as in stick-a-fork-in-you-because-you're-done done. You just don't do it. Or it really is end of story. The A.P. might want to remind Brandon of that going forward.