And stay tuned, coming later today we take you inside the "Early Show" control room where you will see the controlled chaos of live television.
So, what do you do for a living?
I have one of the best jobs in television in terms of what you get to do — putting on a morning news program every day is incredibly exciting and fulfilling — and also one of the worst in terms of schedule — the hours are horrible! Actually, even though I'm more of a night person than a morning person, I don't mind them so much, because we take great pride and responsibility in the fact that we're there when people get up in the morning, telling them everything they need to know about what's going on in the nation and world. I think since 9/11, waking up to morning news is more important to people than ever before. And I think that's one reason why it's the part of TV that's grown the most in the last five years.
I also think we have a responsibility to entertain as well as inform. So we try to have a little fun, too — add in some lighter moments, trying to help people get off to a good start for the day. To me, there's nothing more fun or exciting than doing live television, and we get to do it for two hours every day.
What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
There are two subjects in particular that jump out at me.
Domestically, it's religion. This is a country that was founded on faith, and survives and prospers in large part on faith. And, yet, too often in the news business, the only time we talk about religion is when there's a scandal or the death of a pope or an act of terrorism. I think there should be a correspondent devoted to this beat (ABC News has had one off and on). The potential for stories is endless, ranging from inspirational to provocative to heartwarming — and a part of the fabric of American daily life.
Internationally, it's Africa. For the most part, we barely brush on the tragedies that have befallen that great continent. It's mostly out of sight and out of mind — and that in itself is a tragedy.
But my biggest concern is that we don't do enough GOOD NEWS. Too often, we report one negative story after another. Too often, we report on tragedy, rather than triumph. Too often, we focus on the horrific, rather than the heros. I think one of the reasons that many have a poor perception of the media is that they think we're too negative. I think they're right. So on The Early Show, we've made a special effort to work on that. We certainly don't shy away from the tough stories; our most important objective is to comprehensively report the news of the day, bad or good. But we've tried to make sure we mix in positive stories — of inspiration, of kindness, of courage, of heroism — on a daily basis. Not just because we're a morning show. But because good news is important too.
What's the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
I think the strangest thing that's ever happened to me was back in my days at another network. I created a special series for the Today Show called "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" and I went on the first two trips. The first day the second year, we were doing the show from a monastery near Mt. Everest in Nepal (Mt. Everest would be the backdrop for Matt's surprise live shot). We rode a chopper to get up there the day before, to about 12 or 13,000 feet. As we were checking out the whole setup in the middle of the day, the chopper pilot — a crazy but heroic colonel from the Nepalese Army who had saved those climbers on Everest during the tragedy made famous by Jon Krakauer's great book, "Into Thin Air" — suddenly started shouting that the clouds were coming in ... and if we were going to make it back to the hotel for the night, we had to leave now!
Unfortunately, the chopper only had room for four — and five of us were new to the mountain that day. The colonel said he might have time to make two trips, so I sent the others back (including Matt and his wife), and I stayed behind. I'm sure I looked to them like the saddest man in the world as they lifted off. And unfortunately, it clouded in pretty thick shortly after, so I was stuck there. Which meant there were two problems: I had no warm clothes, and I was not acclimated to the altitude. I had already witnessed one member of the crew go down with altitude sickness, and he had been there for four days! There was a local doctor we had hired on site (he had gone to med school in Chicago), and I walked over to him, and kind of casually offered up something along the lines of, "I should be fine, right?" He looked right into my eyes and said, "Um, well, don't worry, I wont let you out of my sight." Gee, thanks, doc. So I stood around waiting to pass out. Fortunately, I turned out to be fine in the thinner air, and when the clouds broke for a bit about two hours later, my hero the colonel made a quick return flight to pick me up before nightfall.
If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
Harry Smith. The guy has survived hurricanes, wars, angry soccer parents, and one leg of "The Amazing Race" with Dave Price, so I'm pretty sure he could get me through.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
Well, if I was sticking with life in the fast lane, I would love to be a writer on a late night show or a sitcom — or writing screenplays. I so admire the skills of the people that do that, and I think it would be a lot of fun. But if I was looking to slow it down, I think I'd like to be a lighthouse keeper. You can watch the waves and read great books and you're the first to know when the fish are biting.
What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here?
I haven't been here that long, but I would have to say Dan Rather leaving his anchor chair. It marked the end of an era for CBS — and it was an honor for me to get to work with Dan for the short time that I did.
What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen?
Last three books: "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince," by JK Rowling; "Tell No One," by Harlan Coben; and currently, "The Secret Garden," by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I'm reading along with my son, who has it as an assignment for his fourth grade reading class. Great book, can't believe I never read it.
What is your first memory of TV News?
My first memory of TV news is my parents waking me up so I could see Neil Armstrong become the first man to step on the moon. I don't know which network we were were watching, but it was probably Cronkite on CBS. And my mom took a picture of my sister and me on the floor in front of the TV, watching as Neil took his giant leap for mankind. She still has that picture somewhere.
Would you want your child to go into the news business?
Sure, if they want to. Working for newspapers runs in my family, so it's probably in their blood. But my 9-year-old is convinced he's going to play in the NFL. So who knows.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
The most fascinating person is Muhammad Ali. I've been lucky enough to be in his presence four times, and each was a charm. I'll never forget the second time I met him. He gave me a serious look and a little rope a dope and then flicked out a jab, quick as could be, stopping his big fist about an inch from my face. It was so fast I didn't even have time to move. Ali didn't say a word at first, he just laughed at me with his eyes — he can have a whole conversation with his eyes — and then he touched his fist to my cheek, smiled and said in a low, barely audible voice, "I'm still the greatest." I'll remember that forever.
The biggest jerk is a movie star who will remain unnamed who told me during a pre-interview that the question I had just asked him was "the dumbest question he had ever heard." He then proceeded to berate me about the question for the next two or three minutes. All I could think was: "Is this really that important to him?" And by the way, it wasn't a bad question. Needless to say, I enjoy it every time he gets a bad review ... or shows up in a nasty item on the gossip pages.
And finally, our bonus question. This one was submitted by Ron Mwangaguhunga:
"Have you ever thought about making The Early Show more interactive? By that I mean allowing pertinent email comments regarding show segments to be read at the end of the program? Or perhaps allowing fans to email a question or two for the Summer Concert preformers?"
We try to be interactive when we can, but we could probably do a better job of it. We've done some health segments and some money segments where we've solicited email questions early in the the show, and answered them in the second hour. We also do several contests that involve interactivity on the web. And of course, we often take viewer phone calls for the Survivor castoffs. If you have questions for an actor or singer who's going to be on the show, send 'em our way. You never know, we might just ask one.