Departing ''Early Show'' vet McEwen snipes at CBS. On his way out, the lone constant amid CBS morning shows for 16 years complains that the network's continuous tinkering has kept its morning fare in the ratings basement

Will the last person at CBS’ ”The Early Show” please turn out the lights? A day after CBS confirmed that it was moving host Jane Clayson to a nighttime job, longtime weatherman Mark McEwen announced his departure. The lone constant among the shifting incarnations of CBS’ attempts at morning-news programming over the last 16 years, even he could no longer find a place on the chaotic, soon to be overhauled show. And he blames that continuous tinkering for CBS’ inability to pull ahead of NBC or ABC in the lucrative morning sweepstakes.

McEwen’s departure marks the end of a morning show era at CBS but also the end of an expensive, failed experiment. Three years ago, CBS spent a reported $30 million revamping its morning programming, building a street-level studio and bringing ”Today” vet Bryant Gumbel back to a morning anchor slot. Gumbel quit this spring, and his handpicked cohost, Jane Clayton, spent the summer waiting for the other shoe to drop as a revolving series of guest hosts filled Gumbel’s chair. On Monday, CBS announced it was moving Clayson to a correspondent gig on ”CBS Evening News” and ”48 Hours.” ”Early Show” news reader Julie Chen, who knows all about being the last person standing from her night job on ”Big Brother,” is the sole holdover.

Is McEwen quitting or was he fired? ”A little bit of both,” he tells USA Today. In fact, when a new group of hosts takes over next month, there won’t even be a weatherman; according to the New York Daily News, the network will delegate that job to local stations. The Daily News says that the new ”Early” lineup will be less like the traditional morning-show grouping and more like the coffee-table chat on ”The View,” (only more rigidly structured and news-oriented, a CBS source told the paper). There will be four hosts, including Chen, ex-NBC sportscaster Hannah Storm and A&E ”Biography” host Harry Smith, who cohosted the CBS morning show from 1987 to 1996. Being mentioned for the fourth slot is BET news anchor Jacque Reid.

McEwen said he finds the network’s rehiring of Smith ironic. ”If Harry Smith, Paula Zahn, and I had stayed together, we would have been breathing down the neck of whoever was in first place by now,” McEwen told the Daily News. (Zahn is also back on a.m. news duty, but half a mile away at CNN’s brand new street-level ”American Morning” studio. ) Still, McEwen said, he’s glad Smith is coming back, even if he won’t be there to welcome him. ”Harry is a good man,” he said. ”He is a newsman. If he were to get this job, it would make me very happy.”

McEwen, who turned 48 on Monday, said he’s actually looking forward to leaving, since he wants to write a tell-all book about his years at CBS. ”I’ve covered three Olympics, 12 Oscars, 15 Grammys and 10 Golden Globe Awards,” he told the Daily News. ”And I’ve been through eight executive producers. So there are some stories to tell.”

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