CBS is trying to lock up “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King to a new contract as the network is looking to her to be a pivotal player in a turnaround of the news division.
According to two people at the network with knowledge of the situation, King is in talks for a new deal that would more than double her current annual salary to around $12 million — putting her closer to the range of the morning anchors at ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today.”
A contract at that price would make King, 64, the highest paid personality at CBS News by a wide margin. The division has shied away from big-money talent deals as it has been under budgetary constraints in recent years.
But CBS News President Susan Zirinsky was named in January to succeed David Rhodes with a mandate to restore some of the luster to the storied division that has seen its daily morning and evening programs slump in the ratings. Keeping King — who has made noise with news-making exclusive interviews of late — is Zirinsky’s first challenge and a major priority.
King’s current contract is up at the end of the year, but the network would like a deal done sooner than later. CBS is said to have competition from ABC, according to several industry executives who say the Walt Disney Co.-owned network wants to add King to its anchor team on “Good Morning America.”
A representative for CBS News declined to comment on King’s contract situation. ABC News had no official comment, but an executive speaking on the condition of anonymity said, “If someone as talented as Gayle became available, who wouldn’t have that conversation?”
In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, King did not go into detail on her contract status but said it was “very flattering to hear” about ABC’s interest. “I think it’s kind of foolish to predict the future,” she added.
The timing of the talks could hardly be better for King. She has scored a series of exclusive interviews in recent weeks, including this week’s explosive sit-down with embattled music superstar R. Kelly, who vehemently denied the sexual abuse charges he is facing.
A video clip of King keeping a cool demeanor while Kelly went into an unhinged rage went viral after it aired Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.” Interest in the interview has led the network to air an extended version of it in a prime-time special on Friday. King spent a total of 80 minutes interviewing Kelly and spoke with his two live-in female companions as well.
The Kelly interview added to a string of exclusives King has scored for “CBS This Morning.” She had the first TV conversation with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam following the scandal over a photo on his medical school yearbook page showing students in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan robe.
She also interviewed Michael Jackson’s family members who sued to stop the airing of the HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which detailed the pop legend’s alleged sexual relationships with children.
King’s interviews — which have been featured across several CBS News programs and its digital channel — are an example of Zirinsky’s strategy to aggressively pursue exclusives and feature them prominently so that the network’s journalism can be part of the national conversation.
While there is time on King’s deal, CBS wants a new commitment in place sooner than later. People familiar with Zirinsky’s thinking said she wants to secure King’s position at “CBS This Morning” — which brings in around $90 million in profit for the news division — and allow the flexibility to make other moves.
There have been discussions about moving “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell to the anchor chair at “CBS Evening News,” replacing Jeff Glor. But there is a reluctance to make that transition without securing King, as too much change could be disruptive to the morning audience’s viewing habit.
“Pieces are going to get moved around the chessboard but nailing Gail down is where everything starts,” said one person familiar with the discussions.
“CBS This Morning” was a network news success story after it launched in 2012. With the team of Charlie Rose, O’Donnell and King, the program saw audience levels rise over five straight years while its competitors hit record lows.
The successful trio was split up after Rose was fired in November 2017 following a report that a number of women who worked on his PBS talk show accused him of sexual harassment. Rose is also being sued by three former CBS News employees who say they were harassed by him while working on the morning program.
“CBS This Morning” went into a ratings tailspin after Rose’s departure as many viewers were tuning into the program for his gravitas and on-air connection he had with co-hosts King and O’Donnell. Rose was replaced by John Dickerson, who had been successful as moderator of the Washington-based public affairs program “Face the Nation.” The network also added a fourth co-host, Bianna Golodryga, to the program.