Another page was turned Tuesday in the continuing saga of the troubled, low-rated "CBS Morning News." Susan Winston, who runs the program and was hired last May to come up with ways to make it competitive, is resigning at the end of the week.
"It was my decision totally," said Winston, who only a day earlier had said she would stay with the program until her CBS News contract expires in October, even though she opposed CBS' plans to take the program away from CBS News in January.
CBS says that the program's two-hour time slot then will be filled with a new show that, while still emphasizing news, will be produced by a newly created unit that is neither part of CBS News nor part of the network's entertainment arm.
In addition to Winston's imminent exit, Forrest Sawyer and Maria Shriver--who began co-anchoring the "Morning News" last September--also are leaving it at the end of this week. Winston's resignation was made public in a memo to CBS News employees by Van Gordon Sauter, president of the news division, who called her a "highly skilled and creative producer." He expressed disappointment that she had decided not to stay and produce the new CBS morning effort in January, praised her contributions to the old one, and added, "We wish her well."
Winston, former executive producer of ABC's "Good Morning America" when it was the leader in morning-show ratings, said she decided to resign after a meeting Monday afternoon with CBS Broadcast Group President Gene F. Jankowski.
"At this point, they know that I have no desire to continue," she said, adding that "my agent and CBS have come to terms." She declined to elaborate on that settlement, but said reports that her May-to-October contract called for her to earn $250,000 "are inaccurate, and my salary is nobody's business but my own."
Originally hired by CBS News as executive director of planning for the "CBS Morning News," she also has been serving as its temporary executive producer.
The program's previous executive producer, Johnathan Rodgers, left in March after only five months when he was named vice president and general manager of CBS-owned WBBM-TV in Chicago.
Winston's main job at the "Morning News" was to develop a plan for making it a true contender against NBC News' front-running "Today Show" and ABC's "Good Morning America." She had proposed several plans for a new show, including one that would have employed a multi-anchor format, but CBS ultimately decided against that.
Interviewed by phone from her New York office, she said that she and her CBS superiors had "decided that certainly it would be in everyone's best interest to have everybody get on in a progressive manner, and I certainly would like to progress in my career . . . ."
Despite reports that she had had fierce battles with her bosses and earlier this month had to be talked out of quitting, she insisted that "all of these discussions have been remarkably friendly, remarkably professional.
"I just think that CBS is making an improper move," she said, referring to CBS' decision to take its morning-show effort away from the news division, "and because I believe that so strongly, I don't feel I can be an effective contributor to their new enterprise.
"I wish them well. I hope they have a vision that I don't have that will bring them to the forefront of this morning-news racket. But at this point, I've chosen not to be a part of that."