Bryant Gumbel and Steve Friedman, Gumbel's executive producer on NBC's "Today" and CBS's "The Early Show," do not watch morning news programs.
"I'm a night person; I hate the morning," Friedman told television critics here today. Still, he criticized the four-anchor format begun under his "Early Show" successor, Michael Bass: "Having four people doing the job of two is a mistake."
Gumbel, who left the CBS morning program last year, followed by Friedman, declined to comment on the latest "Early Show" incarnation, saying he had not seen it. "If I've watched one minute, that's a lot," he said. Instead, he watches "SportsCenter" in the morning and heads off to the gym, where he does an hour of cardio and an hour of weight lifting each day. He's dropped 55 pounds. Gumbel says he does not watch much television news these days. Instead he spends a lot of time reading "junk" as he called it, meaning novels.
The two men, plus Gwen Ifill, dropped by Summer TV Press Tour 2003 to promote their new quarterly PBS public affairs program, "Flashpoints USA With Bryant Gumbel and Gwen Ifill." It's produced by WETA but, Friedman promises, will be an outside-the-Beltway show.
"Flashpoints" will look at national issues from the perspectives of both policymakers and "everyday Americans," PBS says. Each episode will be constructed around a national poll that will gauge Americans' opinions on a specific issue. Racial profiling in the name of homeland security is the subject of the first broadcast; the second will look at the news media.
Gumbel has signed to host four "Flashpoints" -- the first of which airs on Tuesday. When asked, he said he had no interest in continuing to co-anchor the program should PBS change it to a monthly or weekly series.
Ifill, who seemed bothered by all the questions being directed at Gumbel, chimed in that she would not be interested either. Also the moderator and managing editor of PBS's "Washington Week" and a senior correspondent for "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," Ifill spent a good deal of time at the Q&A session reminding critics that she has "two other jobs," while these days Gumbel plays a great deal of golf.
She also seemed to want critics to know -- because she mentioned it twice -- that she's substantially younger than either guy. Ifill is 47 years old, Friedman is 55 and Gumbel is 54, though he looks 10 years younger these days. Sorry, Gwen.
Gumbel took her comments gracefully, acknowledging that he is in "semi-retirement" and that he likes it that way.
"I did it 30 years. I'm very happy to have done it. I decided life is too short," he said. "There is a lot to life, and a lot more than just television to life," he added. That showed her.
Gumbel does still host HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel," and may be working on a book, possibly a novel, depending on how you interpret his "we'll see" when he was asked.
Gumbel also said he has no interest in becoming a teleprompter reader-anchor on a nightly newscast. His strength lies in doing interviews, he said, and that would be like taking a "fine outfielder" and bringing him in to play second base.
Besides, he said, evening newscasts are a thing of the past because, among other reasons, viewers are no longer home that early to watch them.
The only time the formerly and famously short-fused Gumbel seemed a little bit worked up was when some critic played the Brent Bozell card. There is no love lost between Gumbel and the arch-conservative self-appointed TV watchdog.
"The bozos of the world are always going to be there," Gumbel responded. "I don't think anybody takes them seriously." He declined to continue that conversation, to the chagrin of the critic.
The critics -- most of them middle-aged, many overweight -- were fascinated by the Gumbel makeover. After the Q&A session, a bunch of them surrounded and swamped him with questions, just like a bunch of women chatting up Oprah in one of her Slim Phases :
What did you do with your old suits?
Where is your gym?
Do you work out alone?
How much do you weigh now?
When was the last time you weighed that little?
Do you want your weight to get any lower?
Why did you do it?
Will you write a book of "Tips on Staying Trim"?