Gumbel, CBS deal is like a partnership Television: The former 'Today' anchor has a five-year arrangement for a newsmagazine, specials, co-producing and half-ownership.

March 14, 1997|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Bryant Gumbel is coming to CBS as more of a partner with the network than an employee.

That's the message that came through yesterday during a press conference at CBS' Black Rock headquarters in Manhattan confirming reports published here and elsewhere that Gumbel is leaving NBC after 25 years to anchor a prime-time newsmagazine next fall on CBS.

"Essentially, what we've agreed is to be in business together," CBS News President Andrew Heyward said when asked to characterize the deal between the network and Gumbel.

In addition to anchoring a newsmagazine, Gumbel will also emcee three prime-time specials for CBS Entertainment. The specials are key, because Gumbel will be co-producer of them with Eyemark, the syndicated programming arm of Westinghouse, which owns CBS.

What that means is that Gumbel, 48, will own half of those programs and reap half the profits when they are sold to stations around the country after their CBS showing. It is similar to the deal Barbara Walters has with ABC for her specials. Like the Walters' specials, Gumbel's are also expected to be interview programs.

It is a partnership with almost no risk for Gumbel. Overall, he is guaranteed $5 million a year for five years from CBS, and the sky is the limit in terms of profits from syndication if his specials prove popular. As part of the deal, Eyemark will also pay for the training and future employment of minority broadcasters on Gumbel's specials.

(Gumbel confirmed the five-year length of his contract, but declined to discuss salary. The $5 million figure, published elsewhere, comes from an unconfirmed report in yesterday's Variety, a trade publication.)

"The syndication agreement with Eyemark is a big part of the deal, a very big part," Gumbel said when asked why he chose CBS over staying with NBC or going to ABC News, which was also trying to woo him.

Gumbel and the assembled CBS brass offered few specifics on the specials or the newsmagazine.

"I've thought about it in blue sky terms only," Gumbel said of his deal with Eyemark.

As for the newsmagazine, "It has no name, staff or concept at this point," Gumbel said. But he added, "My strengths are live television and interviewing, so we are going to try and incorporate those two components in the magazine."

Heyward said the magazine will be a "collaboration" with Gumbel.

"Obviously, you don't get someone like Bryant Gumbel and then give him a script and tell him to read it," Heyward said.

But Gumbel could not have been more specific about what he was not coming to CBS News to do: take Dan Rather's job.

"Being a news anchor is not something I aspire to," Gumbel said. "I can tell you, honest to God, we never even discussed anchoring the evening news."

As to whether he would appear as a correspondent on "60 Minutes," anchor CBS' coverage of the 1998 Olympics, indulge his passion for sports by reporting on major games or help with CBS' troubled morning show -- all of which had been the subject of speculation in various reports -- again, the answer was a firm, "No".

"Been there," Gumbel said, referring to the 15 years he anchored NBC's "Today" show, his work on NBC's Olympic coverage and his early days at NBC Sports.

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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