Miami television anchor Maggie Rodriguez's fairy-tale rise through the ranks of network television came to an abrupt end -- or, at the least, a rest stop -- on Tuesday, when CBS dumped her as part of a ruthless makeover of The Early Show, its daybreak newscast.
Rodriguez, co-anchor Harry Smith and weatherman Dave Price were all ousted from the show, which routinely gets clobbered in the Nielsen ratings by NBC's Today Show and ABC's Good Morning America.
"This is no reflection on Harry or Maggie or Dave," CBS News President Sean McManus told the Miami Herald from New York. "They did exactly what we asked them to do. But the ratings suggested that we needed to make a wholesale change."
Rodriguez could not be reached for comment. But McManus said she's in negotiations to stay at CBS in another role -- perhaps on its Sunday Morning newscast or 48 Hours documentary series, both of which she's guest-hosted.
"Maggie's terrific," said McManus, who plucked her from the anchor desk at WFOR-CBS 4 after seeing her newscasts while he was in Miami supervising the network's coverage of the 2007 Super Bowl. "Maggie has a very, very bright future. I'm hoping we can work out something at CBS News that's good for her."
Rodriguez started as a fill-in Early Show anchor but within months had taken over the program's Saturday edition. Soon after, she became weekday co-anchor and occasionally sat in for Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News.
In an interview with the Herald earlier this year she called the fact that McManus had seen her doing an offbeat Super Bowl-week newscast from the Versace Mansion on South Beach ‘‘sheer luck, one in a million." Except for a stint at a Los Angeles station, Rodriguez had spent her life in South Florida before the CBS offer: She graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Southwest Miami-Dade and, in 1991, from the University of Miami, then worked as a reporter at Spanish-language WLTV-Univisión 23 before settling in at WFOR in 2000.
Rodriguez is hardly the first CBS anchor laid low by bad ratings on an early-morning newscast. CBS' morning news shows have been Nielsen disasters since the network began airing them in the 1950s. Even Walter Cronkite -- who co-anchored a morning newscast with a hand puppet named Charlemagne -- was a ratings flop.
"We've had problems in the morning for decades, absolutely," McManus agreed. "It's been well documented. We've not been able to succeed in programming from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. The Early Show is profitable. It has a sizable audience, but, in relation to other networks, we're not as competitive as we would like to be."
In recent weeks, the newscast's ratings have declined even from their usual lows. While The Today Show averages about 5.6 million viewers daily and Good Morning America 4.6 million, The Early Show lags far behind with 2.9 million.
The numbers disappointed McManus, who had been expecting The Early Show to steal viewers away from Good Morning America when it switched anchors from Diane Sawyer to George Stephanopoulos late last year.
"I just felt that it was time to do something dramatic and something bold," McManus said. "The quality of the show had reached a point where it's competitive with what ABC and NBC are doing in terms of booking guests and doing stories, but the growth in ratings just hasn't been there."
Rodriguez and the others will be replaced by Chris Wragge and Erica Hill, anchors of the Saturday version of The Early Show.Jeff Glor, anchor of Saturday's CBS Evening News, will become the newsreader, and Marysol Castro, formerly of Good Morning America's weekend edition, will do the weather.