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Answering Wake-Up Call at CBS

TV: 'It's a program I'm anxious to do in a format I've had some success in,' Bryant Gumbel says.

May 05, 1999|PAUL LIEBERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Indeed, they do not anticipate overhauling the basic morning show formula of a news-oriented first hour and "information they can use" features in the second to "ease people into the day."

"The mornings have always been about information slash entertainment," said Gumbel. "Steve and I used to joke that the first thing they want to learn is whether the world ended last night."

One strategy to give the new show a boost, Heyward said, will be to restore the first hour at the network-owned station in New York. He added he'll lobby all affiliates to do the same at their June get-together.

Friedman said he gathered the show's staff for a pep talk Monday morning, "telling the troops this is the greatest opportunity of their lives. But it's not urgent. We have the summer to develop this. Getting Bryant was urgent. Getting the building. Now we've got to fill out the team."

CBS's new morning producer said he intends to prove that the network is not "jinxed . . . snakebit" in that time slot.

Neither Gumbel nor CBS officials would say whether his contract was enhanced in any way to get him to sign on, but he will be able to continue to work on "Real Sports," his documentary program for HBO. They also would not say what might happen with the current anchors, Mark McEwen and Jane Robelot.

Gumbel returns to the morning slot with a "one day at a time" attitude and a sensitivity to how public perceptions can change.

Two years ago, he left "Today" with a reputation as perhaps the best interviewer in the business, one of the main reasons for that show's success. Now his replacement at NBC, fellow golf fanatic Matt Lauer, is the darling of the early time slot and Gumbel finds himself answering questions about whether his own return is a "come-down."

"Public tastes change rapidly," Gumbel said. "That old thing about, 'What have you done for me lately?' is true across the board, in sports or movies or politics. Winston Churchill went from winning the war to being out of office in two years. . . .

"The prime-time venture didn't work out. It's not the end of my life."

One group of likely supporters for his return, he said, is the "Today" show crew across town.

"Yeah, Matt and I are still very good friends. We just had dinner Friday night. His reaction was that it's a natural fit and he doesn't see any downside. . . .

"They all sincerely wish me well--at least I think it was sincere."

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