COMMENTS: Harry Smith Heads for Hard News, Leaves Lauer

Half a dozen years or so ago, before Tyndall Report converted to the online videostream database you see now, I spent altogether too much time watching the broadcast networks' morning programs.

Back then, NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America split hard-news chores between their male and female anchors--Katie Couric and Matt Lauer; Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer. On CBS, Early Show's Harry Smith did almost all the heavy lifting (his female co-anchors Hannah Storm, Rene Syler and Julie Chen tended to confine themselves to less consequential fare).

Since then, three of those anchors have made the same migration as Tyndall Report, saying goodbye to the antisocial hours and journalistic pabulum of the morning shift. First Gibson, and then Sawyer, assumed the anchor chair at ABC World News. Couric took her seat at CBS Evening News.

Now Smith makes it four, also leaving Early for harder news pastures. He will be the permanent substitute for Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation and for Charles Osgood on Sunday Morning and Katie Couric on Evening News.

The default assumption is that Smith was fired: "pushed out of his job," as Howard Kurtz put it at The Daily Beast; "removal" was the word used by The New York Times' Carter & Stelter at Media Decoder. I disagree. The fact that all of these major morning anchors used their shows as a stepping stone on their way to a genuine hard news position sends the message about where their journalistic hearts were truly.

The morning shows, profit centers for the networks' news divisions, are not centers of journalistic excellence. This is the rant that I wrote for CBS' short-lived Public Eye blog in 2006 when I decided that, for the sake of my own mental health, I could no longer monitor morning content.

These programs turn out to be a toxic mixture of condescension and trivia, hucksterism and self-help propaganda. Anchoring them must seem like some sadistic initiation rite to which aspiring network anchors are subjected--to prove loyalty to the division and to earn it sufficient profits, all with extremely anti-social work hours--before being liberated to cover proper news properly. Preceding Gibson, Sawyer and Couric, Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters underwent the same torment; George Stephanopoulos is going through that ordeal right now.

Harry Smith must view the prospect of one day taking over Schieffer's or Couric's anchor chair as a deliverance not a demotion.

While I demean the timeslot, I certainly do not demean the strictness of the ordeal of working there as a test in anchoring mettle. Being a morning anchor requires unparalleled skills in live television across the widest of palettes: from hard news to human interest to flirting with celebrities to news-you-can-use--all with a sense of tone and timing to yuk-it-up and make a fool of oneself with the rest of the studio team.

At Newsday, Verne Gay wittily tweets about how difficult it is to get things right in the morning. CBS' efforts have been "built on Indian burial ground," he jokes. Gay invokes the names of past CBS failures to attract ratings in that timeslot: Bryant Gumbel, Phyllis George, Mariette Hartley, Bob Saget, Mark McEwen. Kurtz at the Beast chips in with Maria Shriver, Sally Quinn, Kathleen Sullivan, Paula Zahn, Jane Clayson. He adds Forrest Sawyer but omits Diane. He recalls Schieffer but skips Bill Kurtis.

So it is worth pointing to Matt Lauer at Today. Of the five major anchors I mentioned, Lauer alone has not moved from mornings to hard news. And he shows no inclination to do so. When Brian Williams took over as anchor of NBC Nightly News or when David Gregory took the chair at Meet the Press, no one saw a slight against Lauer, or saw his ambitions towards journalistic integrity being stymied.

Lauer seems completely comfortable in his own skin in the morning slots. It comes as no surprise that he was the sole anchor I singled out for praise in my 2006 rant. And it should come as no surprise that his Today remains consistently the most popular program in that timeslot.

When one thinks of the longstanding stars of morning television, one thinks of those who did not see at as a purgatory to live through on their way to a proper news job. Think of Lauer and David Hartman and Jane Pauley. When Couric was at Today she seemed to me to belong in that same galaxy. Look how her stock has fallen by taking the hard news lure.


I think there's a fundamental truth you downplay here...Smith WAS pushed out. Regardless of whether it's better for him journalistically in the long run to be separated from Early Show, the reason he's no longer with Early Show is because he got pushed out. Smith was the only consistency for CBS in the mornings. I do not count Julie Chen who was only there after all that time and all those ratings failures because she had job security in the form of "domestic entanglements". Smith spent more time on the morning grind than any other person in CBS' history. He shows many of the same characteristics as Lauer does only Lauer gets to do big interviews in primetime so he really doesn't need to leave Today in order to get his journalistic chops in (something else your piece probably should have noted but didn't). Smith didn't have that luxury.

Another point of disagreement, Smith will never take over for Schieffer and definitely won't take over for Couric. Sunday Morning is a possibility however if Charles Osgood retires. It would be interesting to see him wind up on 60 Minutes at some point but I don't think that's in the cards. Smith's designation as first fill in for Shieffer, Osgood, and Couric is a fig leaf of cover for the demotion. When the budget axe starts tightening again at CBS, the first thing they're going to look at cutting is high priced talent that doesn't have a steady gig...the John Siegenthaler syndrome. NBC knew it could cut Siegenthaler loose from Weekend Nightly because that's all he did and NBC had Lester Holt already working weekends for the far more important Weekend Today. Smith doesn't have the luxury of a designated gig like Siegenthaler did so he's even more vulnerable.

I do agree that journalistically speaking Smith leaving Early Show is better for him. But from a steady employment standpoint it sure as heck isn't.

And I'm sorta bummed that you didn't include my tweet...
Both Schieffer and Osgood are now in their 70's, the latter close now to 80. Still, Smith's natural abilities seem to be more compatible with "Sunday Morning." Even though I admire Anthony Mason and have somewhat considered him heir at Sunday Morning, I would like to see Smith get a shot at that gig: It and 60 Minutes are the remaining crown jewels of CBS News. They draw 20 million viewers among them and still dominate their respective categories.

It may not have been his choice to leave, but everything comes to an end. And Smith, aside from not being afforded the luxury of timing his own exit, certainly has nothing to be discouraged about with his CBS career.

I for one will no longer watch CBS at 7am, sad because I so enjoyed Harry, made me laugh so many times, also loved Maggie...all I need now is to hear CBS is messing with NICS etc.
Add me to the list of viewers who will stop watching the early show.
While Harry Smith has been a consistent staple for the CBS lineup, he carries neither the elan nor range of Anthony Mason.
Let Smith replace Osgood and watch ratings for "Sunday Morning" fall like a deflated baloon. The bench at CBS is already pretty weak but I don't see Smith having a leadership role in any hard news programming. This is more the end then the beginning for Harry.
Harry will be missed - as will Dave. I guess I will look to see what NBC has to offer.
Dave Price doesn't have a chance against Castro's great legs.

I feel like I'm jonesing for Harry. Every morning I flip to CBS and then it hits me...I can't watch this because Harry's gone.
I too am extremely disappointed that Harry Smith is no longer on the Early Show-CBS. He is a multi-talented newsperson and was the major reason I watched the "old" early show. Saying this, I do not mean to take anything from Maggie and Dave. They were good, but Harry was something special.

I did not watch the Saturday Early show because I did not care for its main talent....they are live "talking heads".

I have seen Harry on the CBS evening news and liked him there better than Katie Curic whom I do not watch.

I would like to see Harry on 60 minutes. That is consistently a quality show. But, as good as the talent has been and mostly still is, the show does need to bring some younger people on board.

I am an east-midwestern and sometimes southern, American "baby boomer aged" citizen. I have little time to watch much TV, but I did watch or listen to the Early Show each a.m. Now I will be able to be in the office earlier since I will not be watching it.

Too Bad, So Sad.
I will no longer be watching the early show.....Harry is so human, personal,.etc.......I so enjoy him, as well as Dave, and Maggy....

Harry Smith, this is a promotion for are headed for the have what it takes.

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