Gumbel's ?The Early Show? Bombs in Ratings

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - Television anchor Bryant Gumbel stumbled badly late this week when his much-hyped new morning program, CBS' "The Early Show," fell badly in the latest network ratings.

Five months after he was brought in to rescue CBS's lagging morning ratings, Gumbel saw his program suffer a 14 percent decline in viewership, worse than its predecessor, "CBS This Morning."

For the first quarter of 2000, "The Early Show" drew 2.64 million viewers. That means Gumbel and co-anchor Jane Clayson are attracting 436,000 fewer viewers than did "CBS This Morning."

An article in the New York Daily News says that the negative numbers come after Gumbel made a triumphant return to the breakfast-show wars in a major effort to take on NBC's "Today" show and ABC's "Good Morning America."

CBS has invested more than $30 million in "The Early Show", including a $5 million a year salary fro Gumbel, and built a street-side studio on Fifth Avenue for the show. It's the largest commitment ever by CBS in this time period.

Network executives, however, told The New York Daily News that they are not concerned about these early numbers because they expect it will take at least 18 months to establish a firm footing in such a competitive arena. Executives said they were in just the first of three phases in building the show over this time period.

"Look, I want the ratings higher," show producer Steve Friedman told The New York Daily News. "I'm not satisfied with what we're getting. But I am not saying to myself there's a major problem here,"

But CBS has lost ground to both "Today" and "GMA," which have seen their audiences grow in the same quarter.

Critics and CBS executives agreed that "The Early Show" is much better than the program it replaced.

Friedman, along with CBS News President Andrew Heyward, has maintained all along that the first goal was to get a competitive show on the air and hopefully grow the audience from there.

"It's still a work in progress," said Heyward. "It's watchable. It's very competitive on hard news. I think the story selection is good, the bookings are good, there's more spontaneity."

Getting people to sample "The Early Show" and to leave one of its more entrenched rivals involves a patient program of promotion and production, Heyward added.

However, CBS guaranteed advertisers higher ratings than the show is delivering.

"It has not been good for them," said Tom DeCabia, executive vice president at ad buyer Schulman/Advanswers NY.

In January, CBS took in $8.2 million in advertising revenue, up 16 percent from the same period a year ago, although those were dollars dedicated by advertisers months before. "GMA" grossed $18.1 million, up 52 percent. "Today" posted $26.9 million, up 26 percent.

Friedman said the network plans to stick with "The Early Show" through its three-phase, 18-month plan for developing a viable and competitive audience.