October 29, 1999
Bryant Gumbel, co-anchor of CBS's new morning news venture, the "Early Show," recently spoke with media correspondent Terence Smith about his return to morning news. The following are extended excerpts from the interview.
TERENCE SMITH: So it was Les Moonves, a year ago, said Bryant Gumbel
would rather be shot in the head --
|A commitment to morning news|
TERENCE SMITH: Well, tell me about that because that's a very interesting
point. What has changed?
|Tell people what they need to know|
TERENCE SMITH: All right. What works in the morning?
|Doing the same thing -- differently|
|TERENCE SMITH: Anyway, let's talk about the competition
that's going to evolve after November 1.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Uh-huh.
TERENCE SMITH: What you think of it, what you think you're going to need to do to compete with it.
BRYANT GUMBEL: I can answer you in a couple a ways, Terence. I mean, number one is I've, I've -- I've always been a believer that all you do is worry about your product, make your product as soon as you can, and, and the rest will take care of itself, and so I, I -- even when I was on the Today program for 15 years, I never ever was concerned with what ABC was doing. I didn't care what they were doing. I really didn't.
TERENCE SMITH: Uh-huh.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Didn't know; didn't care. What I cared about was how well we could do our job, and how effectively we could, we could maximize our potential, and that's kind of what I'm preoccupied with here. So that's -- that's number one. But number two, in terms of a game plan, I'm, I'm -- I'm big on telling people that, that the way things are going right now, we don't have to -- although I would certainly welcome them -- we don't have to steal viewers from -- we don't have to steal NBC's viewers, we don't have to steal ABC's viewers.
The CBS network is a network that is performing very well in all time periods except the morning -- except the morning. What we have to do is stop those people who are CBS fans and CBS viewers from feeling they have to go elsewhere to get their morning fix. You know as well as I do that -- much like politics -- all television is local.
You walk down the street in Chicago and somebody goes, "Hey, I watch you on channel 5." They don't know what network it is. You walk down the street in LA or Omaha, "I watch you on channel 8." They have no idea what network it is. They become fans of a channel and, and what's happened over the years is, is those CBS viewers have had to go elsewhere for their morning fix, to be serviced in the morning. So I think what we have to offer is ourselves as a professional, viable alternative to what's out there, and, and maximize our potential and the rest will take care of itself.
TERENCE SMITH: How do you expect it to be different from what's out there?
BRYANT GUMBEL: I'm not sure you have -- I'm not sure you have to be different. I'm not sure you have to be drastically different. Look -- America, for better or worse, has voted on morning television. They have voted on this melange, if you will, of, of, of news, entertainment, information, and they've decided they like it. And I think it'd be pretty presumptuous of someone, least of all me, to come along and say, no, you know that mix you like -- hey, we're getting rid of that; you know.
So I don't think the, the challenge is to do something different. I think the challenge is to do a lot of the same things with, with an edge, with an attitude, with a, with a little bit more personality, and, and do them effectively, and do them pro -- professionally, and, and, and I'm, I'm, I'm convinced and I'm confident that we can do that.
TERENCE SMITH: And yet the three shows of the major networks --
BRYANT GUMBEL: Uh-huh.
TERENCE SMITH: -- are turning out to be clones of each other. They are all three going to have street-side studios.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Yeah.
TERENCE SMITH: They're all three going to have this basic mix that you were talking about.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Yeah.
TERENCE SMITH: Two principal anchors. So forth. It, it suggests that there are no new ideas in the morning.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Well, I, I -- I think it depends on how you define ideas. I mean, I, I guess I, I could say the same of news magazines.
TERENCE SMITH: Uh-huh.
BRYANT GUMBEL: You know, that World News -- U.S. News & World Report, Time, and Newsweek, are basically the same and they're devoid of ideas because they all offer this melange of politics, international affairs, some entertainment, et cetera, et cetera. Or I could say the same of newspapers. The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Daily News, the LA Times, they're, they're devoid of ideas because they all have sports sections and lifestyle sections, and, et cetera, et cetera.
So, so I don't know how, how far you want to carry it.
I think differences come in, in your approach, in your -- in, in the people involved in doing them, in the edge you bring to them, in the chances you're willing to take, in the proper mix of those varying elements. I think you're right. I mean, I think all news and information programs are basically the same. They are basically the same. But what makes one better than another is the manner in which you do things and the mix in which you, you try to achieve.
TERENCE SMITH: And the personality.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Yes, the personalities matter.
TERENCE SMITH: Without suggesting that you have to reinvent the wheel in the morning, is the viewer going to see much difference between these three?
BRYANT GUMBEL: Yeah, I think, I think the discerning viewer will be able to tell a difference. I do. I think if, if you, if you -- if you're just looking at in a broad landscape and somebody reports back, yeah, they did some news, they did some entertainment, they did some information, they did some lifestyle -- no. But I, I think, for example, our first half hour is going to be as -- as hard a news half hour as there is on television and as comprehensive a, a news half hour as there is on television because we, we firmly believe that, that if you don't deliver the news you lose. Plain and simple.
TERENCE SMITH: Uh-huh.
BRYANT GUMBEL: So, so we're going to, to do that first half hour as a, as a solid half-hour newscast that has interviews included in it, off a top story, off a secondary story, off, off a third story, where, where you're hearing from principals and, and you're getting some depth, and you're getting on-site reporting, and, and, and the like.
And that's really what we'd like to do with it.
|A booking war|
|TERENCE SMITH: You're, you're going to be in a booking war
of the first order.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Uh-huh.
TERENCE SMITH: For guests.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Uh-huh. Has ever been thus. Has ever been thus. Yeah, I mean, we're gonna win some and we're gonna lose some. I know people are inclined to say, "Well, you know, you'll lose because you're the new kid on the block." Well, I, I don't know if that's true. I think there's a variety of reasons people choose to go on some shows and pass on others, and only one of those elements is the ratings game. I think people also choose by the manner in which they're treated, by the audience they're trying to reach, by how they are perceived as a result of sitting across from someone, as opposed to someone else. And, and -- and who they want to reach where.
So, so I'm, I'm -- I really don't have a lot of concerns about us holding our own in the so-called booking wars. I mean, you know, there -- there's a lot of information out there and, and there are a lot of good people with something to say, or are capable of saying it well, and, and we're going to find them, and, yeah, we're going to lose some people, but we're gonna, we're gonna get our share.
TERENCE SMITH: This is a difficult question perhaps for you to answer, but how much pressure do you feel to make this effort a success in an area where CBS has not succeeded before?
BRYANT GUMBEL: I'm, I'm probably the worst person to ask, Terence. I really am. I guess only because I'm not somebody who ever realizes, recognizes, feels a bunch of pressure. I mean, I, I may be the most happy-go-lucky, easy-going guy, come November 1, as, as anybody involved. Look -- I'm aware that, that there's a lot at stake. I'm aware that CBS has a considerable investment in this. I'm aware that there are people who are going to be anxious to, to see how the Bryant Gumbel on CBS compares with the Bryant Gumbel of, of NBC years.
But I can't help all of that. I mean, all I can do is, is, is -- is do a job as well as I can, and, and the rest of it is gonna take care of itself. I'm going into this, obviously, expecting to do well, and hoping to do well, but I'm not gonna slit my wrist, you know? I enjoy doing television and I happen to be one of those people who, while he takes it seriously, doesn't get terribly hung up on ratings.
I mean, I -- my responsibility -- yes, it's to CBS -- but primarily my responsibility is to the viewer. On any given minute of that program, my responsibility is to the viewer and the staff, and that's what I'm concerned with, and, and you know what? If the rest of it falls into place -- terrific. But, but if I feel good about what I did for the viewer and the staff, I can walk away with my head high.
TERENCE SMITH: Finally, what about -- what is it about Bryant Gumbel and the morning? There does seem to be some --
BRYANT GUMBEL: I, I --
TERENCE SMITH: -- connection there.
BRYANT GUMBEL: I have a quirky -- my lifestyle, my, my interests, my, my talents -- for whatever they are -- fit the morning. I'm, I'm somebody who, who gets engaged by a variety of new ideas, who, who likes ad libbing, who manages to stay fairly calm when everybody else around him is going nuts, and, and who enjoys conversation.
And so that kind of a mix works well in the morning. I'm fortunate in that television has something that suits my, my brand of personality.
TERENCE SMITH: And the moment has come where it's the "hot slot," it's the --
BRYANT GUMBEL: Yeah, yeah, it's kind of fun. I mean, it's, it's fun. There'll be a lot of people watching, and, and there's a lot of competition, and there's a lot at stake, and, and, you know, you get to play, and I think that's terrific!
TERENCE SMITH: Truly final thought.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Sure.
TERENCE SMITH: Will CBS do with you what they haven't done in the past, and stick with it?
BRYANT GUMBEL: Your guess is as good as mine, Terence. I mean, look, I ha -- I -- you and I both know how television works. I could get all the assurances on Earth, and you and I both know what they're worth.
I, I fully believe that CBS is committed to this. I fully believe that from a business standpoint alone, they recognize the investment, and how long that investment takes to pay off. But I've always said, it's, it's their store, it's their candy shop, and they're free to do with it what they want. I am a paid employee.
TERENCE SMITH: But you're -- you mentioned how long it takes to change --
BRYANT GUMBEL: It does take --
TERENCE SMITH: -- people's habits in the morning.
BRYANT GUMBEL: That does take a while.
You have to, you have to make a commitment, you have to be in it for the long haul. You really do. I mean, expansion teams don't win Super Bowls their first year out.
TERENCE SMITH: Perfect. Thank you.
BRYANT GUMBEL: My pleasure.