Gayle King, Norah O’Donnell, John Dickerson and Bianna Golodryga have scored a notable string of scoops for “CBS This Morning” in recent weeks. Now executives at the network’s news division are considering something that would also make headlines — a new anchor lineup for the show.
As CBS News president Susan Zirinsky examines the division she took over officially just last week, executives are mulling a potential morning scramble that could send at least two of the show’s four anchors to other assignments. Meanwhile, CBS News is in contract talks with King, who has emerged as the most visible member of the “CBS This Morning” team, thanks to a high-profile sit-down this week with disgraced music star R. Kelly.
Dickerson may take a new role at “60 Minutes” covering politics, according to three people familiar with the matter. Executives are also contemplating dispatching O’Donnell to the anchor seat of “CBS Evening News,” and possibly relocating the show to Washington, D.C. A reorganized “CBS This Morning” could be centered around King if CBS News can seal a long-term deal with her.
All the moves are contingent on many other internal factors and may not come to fruition, these people warned. Zirinsky has been conducting a review of the news operation in hopes of putting staffers in positions that play to their strengths. A veteran producer, her new role as head of CBS News was announced in January, as part of the larger shakeup of CBS management during the past few months.
CBS News declined to make executives avail to comment on the possible changes.
Since launching in 2012, “CBS This Morning” has added new life to the CBS A.M. schedule. The network has aired sundry morning-news shows over the years, but the current program, anchored earlier by King, O’Donnell and Charlie Rose, is the first in years to make CBS competitive with NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” CBS did it with a show focused on hard news, with stories about business and foreign affairs, and fewer of the lighter elements commonly associated with morning TV. Morning programs often generate more ad dollars than their evening-news and Sunday counterparts and are usually a network news division’s most profitable offering.
The program’s higher profile has helped CBS. The network has long been known for stability in primetime, but has faced headwinds in other dayparts. The rise of “Morning” took place in tandem with an increase in viewership for Stephen Colbert’s tenure on CBS’ “Late Show,” fueling the economics of different sections of the CBS programming grid.
“CBS This Morning” has long been a third-place player among broadcast A.M. offerings, however, and its ratings have slipped in recent months. Season to date, “CBS This Morning” is averaging 3.2 million total viewers, compared to 4.1 million for “Today” and 4.2 million for “GMA.” “Today” has on average 939,000 more viewers than “CBS This Morning.” In the year-earlier period, “Today’s” lead was narrower, at 772,000.
And its audience has declined in another critical measure. For the five days ending March 1, “CBS This Morning” captured an average of 830,000 viewers in the adults 25-54 demo, the most coveted by advertisers in news programs. During a comparable week last year, the show had 907,000 viewers in that demo.
Executives have been concerned enough about the program to consider other anchors. CBS News executives even held exploratory talks with Ann Curry, the former co-anchor of “Today” about a potential anchor role at the show, according to four people familiar with the situation. However, those talks predated Zirinsky’s appointment and Curry is not believed to be in active discussions with CBS at present.
Hiring Curry would have caused a stir in the world of morning TV. Curry left “Today” in 2012 after NBC executives became concerned about the way she interacted with Matt Lauer, another former co-host of the program. Her departure captured the sympathies of the audience and lent ballast to “GMA” as it was building new viewership. Since that time, “GMA” has continued to win more viewers than “Today,” while the NBC program captures more audience in the advertiser demo. Hiring her at CBS would have put her up against the NBC program she once called home.
A spokesman for Curry did not respond to a request for comment. She currently hosts the PBS series “We’ll Meet Again” and has a project in the works with AT&T’s WarnerMedia.
Viewers of “CBS This Morning” have already seen some turnover in the show’s anchor team during the past 18 months. Rose was ousted in late 2017 after being accused of sexual harassment. He has denied the claims. He was replaced by Dickerson, previously host of “Face the Nation.” After frequently serving as a substitute anchor, Golodryga came aboard as a full-time member of the team in October.
Despite the viewership fluctuations, “CBS This Morning” has been on a winning streak in recent weeks when it comes to scoring news-making interviews. King won plaudits this week for her grace under fire in her sit-down with an angry R. Kelly, and O’Donnell secured the first conversation with Sen. Martha McSally following the lawmaker’s disclosure that she was raped and sexually harassed while serving in the military.
Dickerson last month landed the first TV interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders as he unveiled his 2020 presidential bid. Golodryga in February interviewed Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, in his first conversation with an American journalist, defending the electronics company after it came under the scrutiny by the Justice Department for cyber-espionage concerns.
Zirinsky has let it be known she wants CBS News talent to deliver big scoops. The morning hosts have delivered. Whether all of them continue to do so from the same perch will depend on how Zirinsky ultimately chooses to deploy the team.