NEW YORK — The real-life drama that some call "The CBS Morning What Next?" continued Friday with rumors of yet another major revamp being planned, but one that will not include Forrest Sawyer on the "CBS Morning News."
Sawyer first left the 7-9 a.m. version of the perennially third-rated morning news program in August last year. He then negotiated a new contract and returned this year to co-anchor the program's new 6-7:30 a.m. version with Faith Daniels.
But tiring of the grind, eager to consider other TV work, Sawyer made his second and final exit after Thursday's broadcast, having reached a settlement on his CBS News contract, which paid him about $550,000 annually.
He did not tell viewers he was leaving. Daniels did that for him Friday, adding that "we certainly wish him well." A CBS spokesman said that no decision has been made on Sawyer's successor, either temporary or permanent.
Sawyer, 38, joined CBS News in July, 1985, and began co-anchoring the "Morning News" on a regular basis in September that year.
He was unavailable for comment Friday. However, his agent, Art Kaminski of Athletes and Artists, Inc., described his client's exit from CBS as amicable.
Sawyer's departure came only nine months after CBS launched its fifth effort in three years to be competitive in the key 7-9 a.m. time period that it shares with NBC's top-rated "Today" show and ABC's "Good Morning America."
CBS' most recent move came last January, when it cut its "Morning News" broadcast in that slot to a half hour, with the 7:30-9 a.m. period filled by a talk-entertainment show, "The Morning Program," co-hosted by Mariette Hartley and Rolland Smith.
Like its predecessors, however, the new double-barrelled effort has remained a distant third in the ratings. And now, as in past years, there are rumors that big change is again afoot--that Hartley may leave soon, or that the much-criticized "The Morning Program" itself may get the boot, live audience and all.
There also is speculation that in January, CBS will either give the "CBS Morning News" the 7-8 a.m. slot and fill the second hour with a syndicated program, or will restore the "Morning News" to the full 7-9 a.m. period that it originally was given in 1982.
One key executive at a CBS-affiliated station, asking that he not be identified, said that he had heard all these rumors but had been told nothing official by the network.
However, he said, informal conversations with CBS executives lead him to make "an educated guess" that, within the next two weeks, the network will announce that the "Morning News" will get its full two hours back.
This time, though, he said, it probably will be similar in format to NBC's "Today"--more features and less of a hard-news emphasis--and CBS News will again be responsible for the entire two-hour morning block.
"The Morning Program," which emphasizes entertainment, isn't produced by either CBS' news or entertainment division. Instead, it is produced by a special unit that reports directly to Tom Leahy, president of the CBS Television Network.
Gene F. Jankowski, president of the CBS Broadcast Group, declined to comment on the various rumors about the future of CBS' morning programming, or even to say if the network will soon have any announcements on its reveille efforts.
"When we've got something, we'll call you," he said in a brief phone interview Friday. "I'm not trying to be coy, but I just can't say anything."