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Bryant Gumbel takes aim at ''Today''

Bruce Fretts tells Gumbel how his CBS morning show can topple its opposition

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Bryant Gumbel takes aim at ”Today”

Dear Bryant,

I know you’re in the process of revamping CBS’ morning show in hopes of taking down your old colleagues on NBC’s ”Today” in the ratings. A tough job, to be sure. But if you follow this list of helpful suggestions, come this fall viewers will be asking ”Katie Who?”

1. Lure Al Roker away from ”Today.” Big Al’s reportedly miffed that NBC passed him over as cohost of its new post-”Today” 9 a.m. infotainment hour. (Instead, it’ll feature a ”View”-like gaggle of gals including adorable ”Weekend Today” coanchor Jodi Applegate and… ex-Wesson spokeswoman Florence Henderson!) NBC is seriously underestimating Roker’s enormous appeal. His cuddly accessibility always helped take an edge off your prickly personality on ”Today,” and he’d no doubt do the same for you on CBS.

2. Dump Mark McEwen. This talent-free Al Roker wannabe has survived numerous regime changes at ”This Morning,” inexplicably getting bumped up from weatherman to entertainment editor to coanchor. If there’s ever a nuclear holocaust, I’m convinced the only creatures left will be cockroaches and Mark McEwen. He’s supposedly staying to do weather on your new program, but why keep someone around who’s just a reminder of the broadcast’s past failures?

3. Hire Elizabeth Vargas as your coanchor. You clicked with her when she was the news reader on ”Today,” so chances are you’ll have better chemistry with her than with some newcomer. Resist the urge to hire a more famous face to compete with ”Good Morning America” megastar Diane Sawyer. Deborah Norville? Joan Lunden? Been there, done that. Plus, Vargas is even prettier than Matt Lauer.

4. Don’t mingle with the masses. I know CBS is building you a state-of-the-art streetside studio just like the ones on ”Today” and ”GMA,” but you shouldn’t feel obliged to venture out into the wilds of Manhattan too often. You always seemed uncomfortable rubbing elbows with the sign-wielding yahoos who stood outside Rockefeller Center — and rightfully so. It diminished your dignity as a newsman.

5. If all else fails, start a feud with David Letterman. Remember back in the `80s, when Dave disrupted a live, prime-time ”Today” special with a bullhorn? Then you went on ”Late Night” and spray-painted his desk? Ah, good times. Now that you’re back on the same network, whip up a new dispute. Heck, it could give Dave a much-needed ratings boost too.

Best of luck, Bry — you’ll need it!

Your breakfast buddy, Bruce