'Survivor' Helps CBS Morning Show

Wednesday, June 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — The CBS summer hit ``Survivor'' has unexpectedly helped rescue the network's struggling ``Early Show'' with Bryant Gumbel.

Since ``Survivor'' debuted three weeks ago, ``The Early Show'' has brought the contestant voted off the tropical island on the previous night's episode in for an interview Thursday morning.

As a result, morning show viewership during the past three weeks has been 13 percent higher than the previous three weeks, even though the morning TV audience generally gets smaller as summer approaches. On Thursdays, the increase has been 15 percent, Nielsen Media Research said.

``These people are coming in the rest of the week because they like what they see,'' said Steve Friedman, executive producer of ``The Early Show,'' ``and on a news show, that's very important.''

It's not enough to make top-rated ``Today'' or second-place ``Good Morning America'' nervous, but it beats the alternative for CBS.

The morning show, anchored by Gumbel and Jane Clayson, has been searching for something — anything — to reach viewers since its debut in November. For much of this year, it has scored lower ratings than the show it replaced, despite CBS's big investment in luring Gumbel and building a new studio.

Now CBS can use a news show to promote a prime-time entertainment show while taking advantage of a pop culture phenomenon to promote the news show.

``The Early Show'' has also held a round-table discussion about ``Survivor'' on Wednesdays, even inviting an entomologist on the day contestants ate wriggling bugs. This week, a former ``Gilligan's Island'' cast member joins in.

And next month, ``The Early Show'' is sponsoring its own ``Big Apple Survivor Contest,'' sending three teams out on a New York City scavenger hunt.

``We are trying to capitalize on it,'' Friedman said. ``But we're also trying to capitalize on it by having some fun.''

CBS News spokeswoman Sandra Genelius defended the heavy emphasis on the entertainment series. CBS is eager to get people to sample ``The Early Show,'' she said, pointing out that all of the network morning programs have a mixture of news, entertainment and lifestyle features.

``The Early Show'' will try the same thing when another CBS reality show, ``Big Brother,'' debuts next month. The show, which follows a group of strangers trying to live together in a California house, will be the focus of morning show segments reviewing the previous night's activity.

In addition, news anchor Julie Chen of ``The Early Show'' will be featured on ``Big Brother,'' interviewing contestants immediately after they are voted out by their housemates.

After an internal debate on the issue, CBS News President Andrew Heyward determined Chen's role in the entertainment series was ``not incompatible'' with her news job, Genelius said.