The Surprising (Week #1) Success of the New Early Show Team



Friday marked the beginning of the 60th year of the Today Show and  they have more to celebrate than anyone in network news. It’s a great show and a successful one.  I’ve estimated the show has made well over a billion dollars for NBC since 1994/5, when they first overtook Good Morning America in the middle of the O.J. Simpson case.

My pal and former competitor, Jim Bell, has done a great job keeping the show in first place as, in tv, all good runs usually come to an end… except, it seems,  for the Today Show.

Very happy new year for the new team at Early.


At the other end of the spectrum, The Early Show  (and its ‘earlier’ incarnations) has been in third place for all of  their 50 years, not a very happy golden anniversary over at CBS, for sure.

But the first indicator of viewer interest surrounding the new anchor team is at least a reason for hope: the Nielsens. Take a look at the change in the demo  year to year!


Early + 20,000   Today -150,000 GMA  -300,000.

As regular readers of daily Xpress know, the total number of viewers in news, the number most commonly reported in the media,  represents all viewers over age 2, and is not relevant to a show’s stability or financial success.  Ad revenue for network news shows is calculated only for adult viewers age 25-54, commonly called “the demo.”

As the week of January 3rd is the first week CBS introduced their new Early Show anchor team of Chris Wragge and Erica Hill, with Jeff Glor as news reader and Marysol Castro at the weather desk, the year to year change in the demo is not without significance:

Again, this is only one week, but since the new team doesn’t exactly include a high wattage news star, or even anyone who’s a household name in most parts of the country, the audience interest/curiosity is big news and certainly something to track.

Full disclosure: during my 23-week tenure at TES as senior executive producer, I was able to increase the demo by 195,000 viewers, during a news cycle when every other daily network news show in the morning and early evening saw declines.  At the time, in 2007 and 2008,  CBS had been in third place for 47 years and I learned first hand, why.  Let me just say, it wasn’t a lack of a cable partner.

Faster than a speeding bullet: gone!

Three years and as many executive producers later, Harry Smith, Dave Price, Russ Mitchell, Julie Chen, and Maggie Rodriguez, are gone from the morning.  Russ, who truly cares about news,  is a weekend news anchor.  Julie was given an afternoon talk show.  Harry is floating. Maggie and Dave are just gone.

So, does the new CBS team have a chance?

Let’s look at the broader season’s battle between GMA and Early compared to last year.   The first week of the season, GMA increased their audience advantage over the Early Show by 3% over the year before, when Diane Sawyer was still the anchor. That looked promising.  For at least two more weeks, they increased that viewership gap between the show.

The week of December 6th is really a rating anomaly as last year it represents Diane Sawyer’s final week as GMA anchor, ending a 10-year+ run.  It is hardly surprising to see the GMA gap shrink with Early year to year for that week.


2009/2010 2010/2011 % Diff
20-Sep 580,000 600,000 3%
27-Sep 630,000 630,000 0%
4-Oct 623,000 570,000 -9%
11-Oct 500,000 480,000 -4%
18-Oct 570,000 540,000 -5%
25-Oct 550,000 520,000 -5%
1-Nov 660,000 580,000 -12%
8-Nov 550,000 620,000 13%
15-Nov 830,000 610,000 -27%
22-Nov dna 620,000 – – –
29-Nov 620,000 560,000 -10%
670,000 470,000 -30%
720,000 730,000 1%
20-Dec 710,000 620,000 -13%
27-Dec 560,000 490,000 -13%
3-Jan 840,000 520,000 -38%
dna – data not available
*Diane Sawyer leaves
**George  Stephanopoulos starts

It is the week of January 3rd that becomes most interesting. All morning shows were up in viewers from the holiday week before.  But year to year, the gap between GMA and Early shrunk by 38%.  Is it just another anomaly or something else?  Stay tuned.  We’ll be tracking it closely over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, it’s also interesting to take a look at  Today Show advantage over GMA in A25-54, this season over last year.  GMA with George Stephanopoulos was able to shrink the demo gap with Today over the comparable week last year with Diane Sawyer, at least five times this season.  Today has increased their advantage over GMA year to year, for the past five weeks.


2009/2010 2010/2011 % Diff
20-Sep 740 790 7%
27-Sep 620 740 19%
4-Oct 748 720 -4%
11-Oct 1000 770 -23%
18-Oct 850 760 -11%
25-Oct 871 820 -6%
1-Nov 710 830 17%
8-Nov 750 790 5%
15-Nov 800 820 2%
22-Nov dna 850 – – –
29-Nov 870 850 -2%
6-Dec* 750 930 24%
13-Dec** 760 820 8%
20-Dec*** 540 790 46%
27-Dec 500 580 16%
3-Jan 710 860 21%

dna – data not available
*Diane Sawyer leaves
**George  Stephanopoulos starts ***holiday anchors

Ever since CBS felt snakebit by the hype surrounding Katie Couric’s arrival, with high viewer curiosity followed by a sharp decline, they seem to take a wait and see approach to anchor changes.  Will the new Early Show team have sustainable growth?

More on this developing story to come.