Dave Price, Harry Smith, Julie Chen, Maggie Rodriguez, and Russ Mitchell by John Filo/CBS
CBS' The Early Show has gone through a lot of changes over the years, but it hasn't managed to significantly move the ratings needle against NBC's Today or ABC's Good Morning America. Another attempt to jump-start the program starts Jan. 7, when for the first time since the late 1990s the program will be carried in its entirety by all of the CBS affiliates. There's also a new addition to the anchor team as Maggie Rodriguez moves from the Saturday Early Show to join Harry Smith, Julie Chen, Dave Price and Russ Mitchell on weekday duty. Executive producer Shelley Ross brought The Biz up-to-date about the changes ahead.

TVGuide.com: So set us straight on what will change in terms of the affiliates.
Ross: [What will change are the] viewers in very important cities like Las Vegas, Nashville and Baltimore, which represent about 23 percent of our affiliates, won't get the full Early Show. They just get parts of it and they get local programming. They dip in and out of our show. To those viewers, there is not a lot of continuity. Sometimes they get great segments but sometimes, if we place an exclusive interview at the top of the show, they're not seeing it.

TVGuide.com: For example?
Ross:
We had exclusive coverage when the Nevada police came out and asked the public to identify a 3-year-old child who was being assaulted on a pornographic video. We not only did the story first, we had asked for exclusive coverage behind the scenes about how the police department cracked the case. We had all this incredible coverage, but we weren't seen in Las Vegas.

TVGuide.com: But no more of that kind of thing as of Jan. 7.
Ross:
Correct.

TVGuide.com: So this is the first time in a while that the show is on the same playing field as the other shows. That's good, right?
Ross:
We'll have some advantages and we'll have some things that are not advantages. People have to get adjusted to a national show and [to not getting] as much of their local weather and their local personalities. That is a shift. We're expecting a hiccup in that area. It's a long march. It's a long process we're in. We have a lot of bridge building to do with affiliates.

TVGuide.com: You've also got a new set, new graphics....
Ross:
It's a new environment to wake up to. If you're flipping channels you can mistake the morning shows - they start looking like each other. It's going to look fresh. There will be cleaner, clearer information on the screen.

TVGuide.com: Any other new faces besides Maggie Rodriguez?
Ross:
Laila Ali ( Dancing with the Stars) is going to be one of our contributors. She will have a unique beat - her beat is really fitness, but more of a "personal best/finding the champion within." We want different voices. Some of the contributors who Early Show viewers have seen over the years may fade out and more resources [may be] put in the hard-news side of it. We're also beefing up the West Coast. I think what was not exploited enough here is having Julie Chen on the West Coast. Everyone always says all network news is too New York-centric and too Washington-centric.

TVGuide.com: What do you really need, though, to get viewers to sample the show and break their habit of watching Today or GMA?
Ross:
A big sea change comes with a story cycle. With Good Morning America, there was a bump when Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson came aboard. But the real sea change came after Sept. 11, 2001. When a story becomes a national viewing event and we all watch it together, you have to be ready on it and you have to be innovative. Who knows when it happens, but those are the opportunities you have to make.