Times Staff Writer

Forrest Sawyer, Maria Shriver, and Johnathan Rodgers generally have avoided publicity since the first two became the new anchor team of the last-place “CBS Morning News” in September and Rodgers its new executive producer in November.

But after rising before dawn Friday to do the show in New York, then flying here for a press conference held when their weary bodies said it was midnight, they finally have begun seeking notice for their program, with Rodgers saying: “I need to tell people we’re here, that the ‘CBS Morning News’ is back in the game again.”

Speaking of that game on Thursday, CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter said that the often-revamped program--which for years has trailed in the ratings--has stabilized with the new team and will start making a comeback in the next few months.

Rodgers doubtless is aware that the program’s past incarnations first emphasized hard news, then a lighter approach, then seemed confused about which to focus on. He made it clear that under his regime serious journalism will fill at least two-thirds of the show.

To this end, he told visiting TV writers at a CBS dinner that he is “expanding” the program’s on-air staff and planning other changes. He declined to reveal details.

But, he said, he regards the program “as more a hard news broadcast than a soft news broadcast.” Sawyer emphatically echoed him. (A soft news broadcast largely offers segments having more to do with the state of entertainment and life styles than with the state of the republic or the world.)

Sawyer, a former Atlanta anchorman who succeeded Bill Kurtis as the program’s male co-anchor last summer, has gotten approving nods from critics for his interviews with major news figures.

But he faced an awkward moment when he disclosed that on Saturday he would be interviewing Joan Collins, star of an upcoming CBS miniseries, “Sins.” He offered no apologies, though, calling that assignment akin to the entertainment features which, like serious news, are part and parcel of newspapers and magazines.

Sawyer said his program’s celebrity segments, which “I don’t want to be a preponderant part of our broadcast,” won’t be restricted to CBS stars. The aim, he said, is “to find those people who have something interesting to say” or are doing interesting projects, regardless of which network employs them.

Shriver, who succeeded Phyllis George after the latter’s short-lived turn on the “Morning News,” also faced an awkward moment when asked about her appearance with CBS colleague Meredith Viera on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, a women’s fashion magazine

How, she was asked, does this jibe with serious journalism? “I did it because I was asked by CBS News to do it,” she replied, and because “I’m trying to get some visibility for the show.”

Furthermore, she said, ABC anchorman Peter Jennings and NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw have been on the cover of Gentlemen’s Quarterly, a men’s fashion magazine.