Nate Burleson makes leap from football to news with 'CBS Mornings'

Nate Burleson makes leap from football to news with 'CBS Mornings'
© Photo courtesy CBS News

Nate Burleson is ready for his breakout moment in broadcast news. 

The former pro football player turned media personality joins CBS full time this week as a co-host of the network's re-imagined morning news program "CBS Mornings," which launches Tuesday from a new studio in Times Square.

Burleson is not a journalist by trade and has never been a news anchor before. He spent his NFL career as a wide receiver and punt returner, playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions.

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Burleson was hired by CBS after leaving the NFL Network, where he was a host on its morning talk program "Good Morning Football." He has appeared on various CBS platforms since 2017, most notably as an analyst during the network's coverage of NFL games on Sundays.

"The storytelling is what CBS has done so well for decades, and that's one of my strengths," Burleson told The Hill, adding that he's excited to play a role in CBS's brand expansion, which he described as rooted in "truthful, authentic, informative and inspiring journalism."

The addition of Burleson is the first major talent acquisition move made by Neeraj Khemlani, president and co-head of CBS News and Stations and Wendy McMahon, the network's president and other co-head of news and stations.

His hiring also comes as the network attempts to displace competitors ABC and NBC in the morning news show ratings race.

"CBS This Morning" lags 586,000 viewers behind NBC and 690,000 behind ABC for morning news programs. The network's flagship morning news show averaged 2.6 million viewers daily, compared to NBC's 3.1 million and ABC's 3.2 million, in the second quarter of 2021.

But CBS says it sees an opening after narrowing the gap with ABC by 8 percent in total viewership during the second quarter compared to the same period a year ago.

Burleson said that he and his new teammates at CBS are in a good position to grow the network's brand and audience.

"I'm a true fan of the art of being a journalist. It's more than just telling a story," he said. "It's deciding what stories we want to tell ... I'm excited about that."

Executive producer Shawna Thomas said Burleson, 40, brings a new perspective to "CBS Mornings."

"Yes, he knows a lot about sports, but there's no way he's only going to be doing stories about sports and he doesn't want it that way either," Thomas told The Hill. "One thing he said to me is a that he has kids. And all these things that we talk about on the show are things he researches and explores with his kids ... he already brings an innate curiosity to the table, so my job and our producers is to explore that curiosity and create and look for stories that he wants to tell."

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Thomas said CBS is looking to build cohesion across its news brands, starting with the morning show and expanding to weekend programs like "CBS Sunday Morning" and the network's most successful feature program, "60 Minutes."

"Part of making [the programs] one family is a renewed focus on storytelling," she said. "All of these shows will have that beautiful sort of storytelling every single day of the week when you include our show. That's an important marker to put down."

There are a number of major stories that Burelson said he looks forward to immersing himself in, armed with the same curiosity that landed him the job at one of the nation's top news networks.

"We're gonna be reactive to the news, like we always are and sometimes we're gonna be ahead of it," Burleson said. "Just the everyday news cycle, I'm looking forward to doing that for the first time instead of waking up and just talking about football."

He recalled how when he first joined NFL Network in 2016, he was eager to pitch out-of-the-box formats for shows, segments and specials.

"And I remember one of the producers said, 'Nate, all due respect to you ... you just got here ... take a chill pill, give it some time," Burleson said. "I realized I've gotta earn, I've gotta earn the right to suggest these things."

With his new gig, Burleson said he finds himself excited again, throwing stories ideas at CBS News staffers sometimes faster than they can take them.

When asked if anyone at CBS has asked him to "take a chill pill," Burleson laughed.

"Ha. Not yet. Not just yet and hopefully they won't," he said. "This is uncharted territory for me. But I think what people will be surprised to see is I'll be comfortable in these spaces."