By:
August 12, 2021

You can’t see me, but I’m standing up and applauding CBS right now.

Normally, hires on programs like morning shows aren’t a reason to rise up and cheer. They’re usually more ho-hum than anything.

But CBS deserves kudos for an out-of-the-box hire that was surprising but, I’m predicting, will be eventually viewed as brilliant.

It has named NFL analyst and former NFL star Nate Burleson as co-host of “CBS This Morning.” He starts in September.

It marks quite the shakeup. Not only is CBS going a nontraditional route as Burleson joins current co-hosts Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil, but it also means that co-host Anthony Mason is out. He reportedly will shift to a role reporting on culture. He had been co-host since 2019.

But back to Burleson, who has quickly established himself as a first-rate broadcaster on shows such as NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” and CBS’s pre-game show, “The NFL Today.”

In a statement, Neeraj Khemlani, president and co-head of CBS News and Stations, said, “Nate is an extremely gifted broadcaster, interviewer and storyteller, whose deep curiosity and enthusiasm is the perfect fit for mornings on CBS. His wide range of experience and interests — from news to sports, from music to poetry, and from fashion to cryptocurrency — provides a unique perspective that will deepen the show’s connection with our viewers. He excites audiences in every arena, and we’re fortunate to have Nate joining Gayle and Tony at the table in September.”

Burleson had a guest-hosting stint on “CBS This Morning” in May and, obviously, impressed CBS executives.

“When Nate guest-hosted earlier this year, his energy was infectious in the studio, and his versatility spanned all aspects of the show,” said Shawna Thomas, executive producer of “CBS This Morning.” “He’s comfortable and insightful, no matter what the conversation topic.On top of that, he already knows how live television works, and he’s used to those morning hours from his time on the NFL Network. I’m looking forward to working with him and seeing the show evolve with him at the table.”

Meanwhile, good news for football fans. Burleson is not giving up all of his NFL gigs. He will still serve as a studio analyst on “The NFL Today” and still appear occasionally on the NFL Network. (Here’s his goodbye on “Good Morning Football.”) And the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reports that Burleson is the leading candidate to someday replace James Brown as host of “The NFL Today,” although Brown, 70, is still going strong and showing no signs of wanting to retire.

While the Burleson hire was surprising, it’s not totally unprecedented. Football Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan started off as an analyst on “Fox NFL Sunday” and eventually was hired as a co-host on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He still does both jobs and does them quite well. He also formerly co-hosted the “Live!” morning show with Kelly Ripa.

There’s every reason to believe Burleson will be as successful as Strahan, if not more so.

“Life is about being ready for the right opportunities, and I have been preparing for this moment since my first day on television,” Burleson said. “Having a chance to inform, enhance or simply brighten up the morning for our viewers is an honor.”

Burleson, who turns 40 next week, played college football at the University of Nevada and then spent 11 seasons in the NFL playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions. His football career ended in 2014 and he started at the NFL Network in 2015. He joined CBS’s “The NFL Today” in 2017, and also did work for the show “Extra.”

Burleson also is scheduled to make appearances on Nickelodeon in a variety of capacities.

The rest of the story …

CBS, obviously, is looking to pump up its morning show ratings after a weird year because of changing work habits due to COVID-19. That impacted viewership of morning news shows. And that was a problem that all three major networks had.

As Associated Press media writer David Bauder wrote back in May, “Viewership is down at all three programs, although to be fair, it is for television in general. But for the morning shows, the loss hits hardest among viewers aged 25-to-54 — working people. In that age group, viewing dropped 22% between the first three months of 2020 and this year at ‘Today,’ 24% at ‘Good Morning America’ and 16% at ‘CBS This Morning,’ the Nielsen company said.”

Now, with more people returning to work and kids going back to school, might the morning shows get a boost? We shall see, but CBS obviously is looking for its shakeup to draw more interest for “CBS This Morning.”

Mason’s new role

The Hollywood Reporter’s Alex Weprin reported on the memo that CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani sent staff and it included this part about Anthony Mason:

“(Mason) is committed to covering culture — both in terms of how it defines the atmosphere of the country and how culture changes it. He believes fiercely that art and music are integral to our culture, not merely odd indulgences. They frequently define our time in very real ways. We want to enable him to do more culture reporting on a regular basis across our morning programs and develop ideas for our digital platforms where he can do the kinds of stories that he says, ‘will be as daring as the art and music that we cover.’”

Jeopardy’s big decision

Mayim Bialik in 2019. (Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP)

The answer: The best description of how “Jeopardy!” decided to replace iconic host Alex Trebek.

Question: What is … a stunner?

We all knew the long-running game show would have a difficult time finding someone to replace the late Trebek. So they are doing it with two someones. The show announced Wednesday that executive producer Mike Richards and Mayim Bialik, a neuroscientist and actress known for her roles in “The Big Bang Theory” and “Blossom,” will both host “Jeopardy!” going forward.

Richards will host the daily syndicated show and Bialik will host prime-time specials and spinoffs.

There was immediate backlash about the decision for several reasons. For starters, many viewers had their personal favorites among the group that guest-hosted over the past season, especially LeVar Burton and Ken Jennings, and hoped one of them would get the permanent job.

But other backlash came from those who wondered if naming two hosts, including Bialik, was meant to offset controversy from when Richards was the executive producer of “Price Is Right” a decade ago.

Variety’s Cynthia Littleton wrote, “Richards was accused of pregnancy discrimination in two complaints filed by former ‘Price Is Right’ models. He was accused of making insensitive statements and taking other questionable actions around models on the show who became pregnant.”

Richards addressed the controversy in a memo to “Jeopardy!” staff this week, saying in part, “I want you all to know that the way in which my comments and actions have been characterized in these complaints does not reflect the reality of who I am or how we worked together on ‘The Price Is Right.’”

However, here’s hoping that this talk doesn’t diminish Bialik’s hiring. Because let me just say that I’m a huge “Jeopardy!” fan and have seen all the guest hosts and I, personally, thought Jennings, Richards and Bialik were the best of the bunch. (I also liked Katie Couric, but she told me from the start that she was not interested in the permanent job.)

Then again, as Julia Jacobs of The New York Times pointed out, Richards is a leading executive of the show and, Jacobs, wrote, “Some made comparisons to Dick Cheney, who was tasked with vetting possible running mates for George W. Bush in 2000, only to take the job himself and become vice president.”

And there’s also this, as summed up in a highly critical tweet from The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, who was a three-time champion on “Jeopardy!” in 2012: “The problem isn’t that Mike Richards is ‘boring’ or ‘lesser known.’ The problem is that Sony auditioned a diverse, exciting, smart, competent and talented pool of candidates and then turned around and hired the existing EP, who is also a white guy with red flags. Disgraceful.”

By the way, the headline of the day goes to NPR for “It’s Double ‘Jeopardy!’: Mike Richards And Mayim Bialik Will Be New Hosts.”

CNN raids NBC again

Last month, Kasie Hunt surprised viewers of her “Way Too Early” MSNBC morning show by announcing she was leaving NBC News. Within hours, there were reports that Hunt was headed to CNN to be a major part of CNN’s venture into a streaming service called CNN+. Not only that was a big deal, but so was word that CNN was going to hire hundreds of people for the streaming outlet that will launch next year.

Hunt officially joined CNN this week. The network announced she will host a daily show on CNN+ that will focus on politics. She also is expected to appear on the regular CNN.

Then came word Wednesday of CNN raiding NBC for another big hire. Jenn Suozzo, who is the executive producer for the “NBC Nightly News,” is headed to CNN+ for a senior role. (Meghan Rafferty will be the interim executive producer for “NBC Nightly News.”)

Suozzo had been at NBC for 22 years and the executive producer of “Nightly News” since 2018.

CNN isn’t messing around. It is making hires of quantity and quality for CNN+, which will do live programming, as well as original programming. It is not expected to duplicate what CNN does, but it is meant to stay with the times as more customers are cord-cutting.

The big question, however, is will customers be willing to pay for a news network, along with all the other services they pay for, such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, ESPN+ and so forth?

A take that makes you go, ‘Hmmm’

Outgoing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX)

As you know by now, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is resigning. But not right away. He will step down in two weeks. Which drew this reaction from Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, on his Cafe Insider podcast that he co-hosts with Joyce Vance:

“I was a little taken aback that he said his resignation is effective in 14 days — and it may be overly cynical on my part — but I believe that Andrew Cuomo was a person of mischief. I take him at his word that he intends to resign. Fourteen days is a long time. The lieutenant governor has been taking steps to be ready. I don’t know why she couldn’t take office tomorrow. And I hope there’s nothing nefarious about the 14 days, but it strikes me as too long a period. You don’t have to give two weeks’ notice to resign as governor.”

Speaking of Cuomo, check out The New York Times’ Matt Flegenheimer, Maggie Haberman, William K. Rashbaum and Danny Hakim with “Railing at Enemies and Pleading for Time: Inside Cuomo’s Final Days.”

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Updated: This story has been updated to say Preet Bharara is the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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