Josh Elliott's untimely exit from CBS News marks three national outlets that he's left under a cloud. And television insiders now are wondering - where the anchor will go for his next act?
Elliott declined to comment, but people familiar with the matter say it's unlikely he'll return to ESPN, where he anchored a weekday morning SportsCenter before jumping to ABC's Good Morning America in 2011. He left ABC News after three years amid rancorous contract talks with the network - then presided over by Ben Sherwood, who has since risen to become president of Disney-ABC Television Group. ESPN is also part of the Disney brand.
But one lifeline might come in the way of Fox Sports. Jamie Horowitz, who runs cable networks Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, is known to have liked Elliott and may be interested in exploring a role for him. Horowitz worked closely with Elliott during the former's stint as the executive in charge of Today. Elliott jumped to NBC Sports in March 2014 for a reported three-year, $4 million annual salary. (GMA had offered him about $5 million a year to stay.) But sources say his time at NBC was unhappy, as management - which initially was said to be eyeing Elliott to one day replace Bob Costas (who just handed the reins to Mike Tirico) - decided early on that he wasn't the right fit.
Read more: Josh Elliott Out at CBS News
"He torched the relationship with Disney; no shot ESPN brings him in; he torched the relationship with NBC and now torched the relationship with CBS. So where does he go?" speculates one insider. "Home. For a while."
It's unclear exactly what Elliott's settlement with CBS News will look like; he joined the news division in March 2015 as the lead afternoon anchor on digital channel CBSN. At the time, it was a big hire for the nascent platform. And while Elliott has been known to alienate colleagues - his final months at GMA were rather strained - some sources at CBS News tell The Hollywood Reporter that he was working out well there.
But CBS News management, including president David Rhodes, were apparently blindsided by his coy announcement from the CBS News control room on Friday that it was his "last day" at CBSN "in a regular capacity." He did not say where he was going but added, "Although knowing how things work around here, I may see you again on Monday morning."
CBS News had planned to move Elliott to a correspondent role to give him some more reporting experience. But they hadn't yet planned to announce the move, aware that there has been tremendous speculation about its morning news team and also Scott Pelley's future at CBS Evening News.
Elliott had filled in on CBS Evening News as well as CBS This Morning, which is anchored by Gayle King, Charlie Rose and Norah O'Donnell. King just signed a new long-term deal. And Rose, who is recovering from heart surgery, and O'Donnell are expected to be in contract extension talks in the coming months. Rhodes and CTM executive producer Ryan Kadro have made it clear that their priority is to keep the current anchor team intact.
To many media observers, Elliott's announcement was indicative of what one source described as his "perpetual impatience" for a bigger job. "His work ethic doesn't match his overinflated ambition," notes news analyst Andrew Tyndall, "If you really want to succeed in this business, you've got to be obsessed with success."
Elliott lasted less than a year at CBS News; a spokesperson announced Monday that Elliott and the company were "parting ways." The statement continued: "We are grateful for his contributions over the last year, and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors."
High-profile shuffling is nothing unusual for network news, with a number of celebrated cases of anchors bouncing between news outlets and, in some cases, even returning to the same networks they had previously quit.
But the contraction of the industry has made it more difficult for anchors who are not enormous stars (like Megyn Kelly) to continue to secure jobs with the same exposure and lucrative paycheck. Industry observers were shocked that Tamron Hall decided to leave NBC News and MSNBC after 10 years at the network despite what multiple sources say was a rich offer of more than $3 million annually to stay. Yes, the 9 a.m. hour of Today - which Hall anchored with Al Roker - will soon come in for a major overhaul to make room for Kelly, who departed Fox News after more than a decade. But Hall had her own show on MSNBC, and network executives had expressed a desire to keep her in the Today family, where she often filled in. Kelly passed up a four-year, $100 million offer from Fox News parent 21st Century Fox. And while her deal at NBC News - which includes the Today hour, a Sunday news magazine and event coverage - is surely paying her well, it is known to be less than what she would have earned by staying at Fox News.
"Where's Soledad O'Brien now? Where's Ann Curry now?" adds Tyndall. "There's a list of people who were solid mid-tier talent who could do hours, but were never superstars. And now they've dropped off the face of the earth."
This story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.