Jane Clayson doesn't want to talk about whether she drinks caffeinated beverages and she dislikes telling reporters her shoe size, but she can't wait to meet the "ordinary people" who think that hanging around a streetside TV studio is a great place to be at 7 in the morning, and wants to learn everything about their lives.

Clayson, a Los Angeles-based correspondent for ABC News, yesterday was officially named Bryant Gumbel's new Jane.

She and Gumbel will host CBS's morning news program, "The Early Show," which debuts Nov. 1 from a storefront studio that the network is building at the southeast corner of Central Park.

Meeting Gumbel for the first time, she told reporters yesterday, was "like seeing an old friend--we just clicked."

Eighteen years Gumbel's junior, 32-year-old Clayson says she watched him while she was in high school. "Everybody watched Bryant and Jane. That's how you started your day--he's an institution," she said.

And, if she's half as successful as Gumbel's other Jane--Pauley that is, with whom he hosted NBC's "Today" show from 1982 to 1990--"I will be pleased and very grateful," Clayson said.

Reporters were eager to learn something about Clayson, about whom not much has been said by CBS except that she's been with ABC News since 1996 and earlier worked in local news in the Salt Lake City market.

But when it came to personal questions, Clayson clammed up. Which is not a good thing, because the morning news audience likes to feel up-close-and-personal with its stars--or it doesn't watch.

Maybe Clayson was just taken by surprise when one reporter asked for her shoe size. Not the usual question, but since CBS News execs had dubbed the search for Gumbel's partner "Operation Glass Slipper," it seemed perfectly reasonable. When Clayson dodged, the reporter explained the footwear angle, but still she bobbed and weaved, responding, "I've told Steve Friedman"--the "Early Show" executive producer--" 'Enough about the glass slipper, this Cinderella is going to need running shoes.' "

Undaunted, the reporter asked her what size her running shoes were and Clayson finally gave it up, confessing to an 8 narrow. But she got flustered when asked if she is a Mormon (she said she is) and whether she abstains from caffeine.

She answered that there are a lot of things in her personal life that she's proud of and that she does not expect to be an issue. To try to put her at ease, the reporter let her know where this line of questioning was headed: If you avoid caffeine, how will you manage the awful 4 a.m. wake-up that the new gig demands?

Adrenaline would be enough to keep her going initially, Clayson said. When the reporter persisted, she finally acknowledged she does not drink coffee.

CBS brass have been scouting for a female co-anchor since May. Friedman says they looked at 300 tapes and spoke with 100 candidates before making Clayson their only offer.

Though Clayson's background is in hard-news coverage, she said she's looking forward to meeting "ordinary people."

"I love to hear about their lives and interests and what motivates them," she said.

And the meet-and-greet aspect of the show is very important, Friedman clued the reporters. After people glad-hand with Gumbel and Clayson, they'll go home and watch, and so will their relatives.

"It's almost like retail television," he said. "You win fans one at a time."

CAPTION: The former ABC reporter shies away from personal questions.