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CBS Morning News

The CBS Morning News is the name historically given to a morning news program on CBS between 5:00 AM and 6:00 AM ET. CBS's current morning news program is called The Early Show, which currently competes with NBC's The Today Show and ABC's Good Morning America.

Table of contents
1 1950s
2 1960s
3 1970s
4 "They shot it in the head."
5 work in progress below this line


CBS never has had a really competitive, successful morning news broadcast as NBC and ABC have. In its first incarnation in 1954 as the Morning Show, Walter Cronkite was teamed with a lion puppet name Charlemane, staffed with a gag writer, and expected to compete against the NBC Today Show, then hosted by Dave Garroway who had a chimpanzee sidekick called J. Fred Muggs. Cronkite was still early in his network career, and like his lion puppet, came across to viewers as stiff and boring. After five months CBS started an anchor door which seems to rotate to this day.

In an 18 month period, Cronkite was replaced by Jack Paar, who in turn was replaced by Dick Van Dyke who was replaced by Will Rogers, Jr The name of the show was changed to a polite Good Morning, but that didn't seem to attract viewers, either. As an indication of just how many people weren't watching, an incident from the Will Rogers, Jr. era is worth a glance.

The incident occurred during CBS coverage of the Democratic political convention in Chicago during 1956. Show producers reasoned that since their anchor was the son of Will Rogers, he should ride a horse up Michigan Avenue, dismount in the hotel lobby, and anchor the show. The horse apparently thought it had a better idea for interesting television however. As Rogers rode into the hotel lobby, the horse proceeded to defecate on camera. Ned Calmer, the headline presenter waiting to read, saw what was happening on a studio monitor and said to his writer, "Good God, what a f@#*up!" Unfortunately for Calmer, the show's director, in an understandable panic, had switched from the horse to Calmer's news desk, and Calmer's comment went out over the air. That CBS received scarcely any complaints only demonstrated the futility of trying to compete with NBC in the morning.

Good Morning was yanked from the air not long after that incident. To spare CBS News any further humiliation, the time period was handed over to a children's program Captain Kangaroo. NBC management, meanwhile, left Garroway in place and by leaving him in place, turned the NBC Today Show into a national institution.


In 1961, CBS returned to the morning news battles. Following a basic law of television programming, "If you can't beat them, stay out of their time slot", the network started a program called Calendar, hosted by Harry Reasoner and Broadway actress Mary Fickett. One of the writers on the broadcast was Andy Rooney, later to gain fame on 60 Minutes. At 10:00 AM, the show went on the air an hour after the NBC Today Show had ended. Reasoner clicked as an anchor, and began his rise to modest news business stardom. CBS kept the program at 10:00 AM, until 1965; but Reasoner left in 1963, He was replaced by Mike Wallace, at which time the broadcast was renamed CBS Morning News.

CBS discovered the company could make more money running I Love Lucy reruns in 1965, and moved the broadcast start time to 7:00 AM. Wallace lasted a year with the change in hours, got sick of the grind, and left to cover Richard Nixon's comeback for CBS News.

He was replaced by Joseph Benti, who survived four years in the job, followed by John Hart. For several years, the show producers joked they produced the show for an audience of one -- CBS founder William Paley.


In 1973, Paley decided that beauty and the grouch would make an anchor team able to compete with the NBC Today show. The beauty was Sally Quinn, a daughter of a Army general, who had worked for CBS at the 1968 political conventions, and at that time was a feature writer for the Washington Post. The grouch was Hughes Rudd, an old-school journalist who treated Paley like an old drinking buddy when he visited the Moscow CBS bureau on a trip.

CBS launched the anchor pair with huge amounts of publicity. Unfortunately for CBS, within several days of Quinn's debut it became obvious she was totally unprepared for the job. In four months, she was gone.

The response from CBS was to pair Rudd with Bruce Morton, an experienced Washington D.C. correspondent. Their hallmark was the well-crafted news package delivered in a straightforward manner. Although anchors came and went over the next six years, the two set a consistent tone for the broadcast, which emphasized news and ideas over celebrity gossip or self-help tips.

"They shot it in the head."

Change came to the program in 1981, when the program was retitled Morning and anchored by Charles Kuralt. Upon the program's expansion to 90 minutes, Diane Sawyer joined the show as co-anchor. The program featured long pieces from CBS News bureaus, and many viewed it as a highbrow, classy newscast in the best CBS tradition. Unfortunately for Kuralt, changes at the CBS Evening News would put him out of a job.

As part of the restructuring which occurred at CBS News owing to Dan Rather's ratings problems, management decided morning news programming should be more competitive, and brought in Bill Kurtis, and a former producer of Good Morning America, George Merlis, to revamp the broadcast. Most CBS News insiders credit Merlis with nearly doubling viewership numbers by March 1983. For his trouble, Merlis was fired.

The program then became a case study in how not to manage a news organization. Phyllis George was brought in as a co-anchor when Sawyer left for 60 Minutes, and managed to alienate viewers by asking an accused rapist and alleged victim who had recanted her story to hug. On live television, no less.

After some convulsions on the part of both CBS management (who blanched at paying three million dollars for someone to do nothing) and George, Maria Shriver and Forrest Sawyer made a grim effort to broadcast a respectable show. However CBS News management had other ideas in September of 1986. As Dr. Bob Arnot, the show's medical correspondent put it, "They shot it in the head."

work in progress below this line

Since then, CBS has tried and failed with a variety of formats and anchor combinations. The current effort is called The Early Show.