Bryant Gumbel leaves `The Early Show'; CBS has no one in line to replace him

Friday, May 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bryant Gumbel made his exit from morning television on Friday, his last day on CBS' ``The Early Show'' decidedly more low-key than his tearful farewell to ``Today'' five years ago.

After a two-hour show that barely alluded to his last day, Gumbel presided over a final cooking segment with three chefs who made him braised ribs, mustard glazed salmon and wild mushroom duck risotto.

``This is not a right, it's not really a job,'' he said. ``It's a privilege more than anything else.''

He raised a glass of red wine to the camera as the final credits rolled.

Gumbel's last day in January 1997 after 15 years on NBC's top-rated ``Today'' was a two-hour tribute, with a musical performance by Prince and a visit from Muhammad Ali.

Gumbel's tenure on CBS' morning show lasted two and a half years. He helped make CBS competitive in the lucrative time slot, but ``The Early Show'' never rose from third place behind ``Today'' and ABC's ``Good Morning America.''

In an interview with Barbara Walters for ABC's ''20/20'' on Friday, Gumbel took responsibility for ``The Early Show's'' lack of success _ but only to a point.

There were too many elements out of his control, he said.

``To try to come in and set up a burger chain between McDonald's and Burger King and make it a successful franchise in two and a half years, I think, was somewhat unrealistic,'' he said.

Gumbel's co-host, Jane Clayson, is remaining on the show. On the air Friday, she told him, ``You have my respect and my gratitude.''

Gumbel, 53, keeps his job as host of HBO's ``Real Sports'' but is leaving CBS. The golf fanatic told Walters that ``you'll never see me working five days a week again.''

A history buff, he said he'd be ``thrilled'' if the History Channel asked him to do something. He also takes pride in his cooking.

``I can see myself fiddling around with some things in that arena,'' he said.

CBS hasn't named a replacement. The network's apparent first choice, Meredith Vieira, parlayed that interest into a lucrative new deal to stay on ABC's ``The View'' and be host of the syndicated game show ``Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.''

``Hollywood Squares'' host Tom Bergeron and Russ Mitchell, host of CBS' weekend morning news, are the first two subs lined up for Gumbel.

The chief ``Early Show'' executive since the program launched in November 1999, Steve Friedman, is leaving with Gumbel. Friedman is being replaced by another ``Today'' alum, Michael Bass.