By People Staff
April 22, 2002 12:00 PM

Unlike his frosty pairing with Katie Couric on Today, Bryant Gumbel has become buds with Jane Clayson during the 30 months they have cohosted CBS’s The Early Show. Gumbel has offered to fix up the divorced Clayson with eligible bachelors and helped name her Maltese puppy (Tes, an acronym for their show). But after the April 4 broadcast Gumbel dropped a bombshell on his friend. “He pulled me into his office around 9:25,” says Clayson, 34, to tell her he was quitting some time next month. “He said, ‘I don’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn anymore or be chained to my desk with homework every night.’ ”

For his part Gumbel, 53, says his resignation is “something I’ve been batting around all year long.” He denies it had anything to do with The Early Show‘s stubbornly low ratings (its 2.7 million viewers lag far behind Today‘s 6.3 million and Good Morning America‘s 4.8 million) or with CBS’s seemingly waning enthusiasm for his talents. One insider heard that the network hadn’t yet offered Gumbel a raise on his $5 million annual salary. “It was not a competitive or economic decision,” Gumbel says. “I just want to enjoy my life.”

And share it too. In December—four months after his divorce from wife June, 53, was finalized—he proposed to longtime girlfriend Hilary Quinlan, 42, a former Goldman Sachs analyst turned model. The two plan to wed later this year, although “I wouldn’t be surprised if they eloped,” says Early Show reporter Laurie Hibberd. Meanwhile Gumbel—a father of two—will focus on his other TV gig, hosting HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. “He’s in the perfect place,” says HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg. “There’s no need to get up at 3:30 a.m. , and he has time to hit the links and enjoy his summer.”