NEW YORK – After months of single-handedly holding together CBS' wake-up program following the departure of Bryant Gumbel, Jane Clayson is being dropped by The Early Show.
"I had a pretty big job to do this summer, and I was carrying most of the load," Clayson told The Post. "And I felt like I made it through fine.
"Honestly, you'll have to ask CBS what they were thinking," she said.
Clayson will remain on The Early Show through this week -- and possibly through the end of next week -- and will then take a few weeks off.
CBS has not been able to find new Early Show co-anchors since last spring, when they offered the job to The View co-host Meredith Vieira, who turned down the chance.
Since then, former Today show co-host Deborah Norville, former CBS morning-show host Harry Smith, sportscaster Hannah Storm and Hollywood Squares host Tom Bergeron have all been mentioned as strong possibilities. But CBS has appeared in no hurry to fill the crucial jobs.
Clayson's future on The Early Show had been shaky at best since Gumbel, her former co-anchor, left last May.
CBS never publicly gave Clayson a firm vote of confidence, and rumors flew every time a guest host sat opposite her in Gumbel's chair.
Her finest moment came in June, when she questioned Martha Stewart about alleged insider-trading shenanigans.
The flustered Stewart never again appeared on The Early Show.
Clayson, then largely unknown, was tapped to co-anchor The Early Show with Gumbel when the show kicked off in November 2000 with a new, $30 million street-front studio.
While the Clayson-Gumbel team helped The Early Show generate a small uptick in the ratings, the show never seriously challenged ABC's second-place Good Morning America and lagged far behind NBC's top-rated Today show.
After Gumbel's departure, CBS brought in several high-profile guest co-anchors, including Charlie Rose and sportscaster Lesley Visser.
That set off new rumors about Clayson's fate.
"I think that's just part of the business," Clayson said of the rumors. "People will say what they will, and that's fine.
"I was very focused on trying to work through a challenging period, working with the many different personalities of people filling in, and juggling their strengths and weaknesses."
Clayson isn't leaving CBS News altogether -- thanks, apparently, to anchorman Dan Rather.
"Dan called and asked if I would be interested doing the Eye on America segments [in the CBS evening newscast], and when he and I co-anchored the 9/11 coverage, I realized it would be good to stay here," she said yesterday.
Clayson will also appear on the network's 48 Hours and will do some substitute anchoring for the weekend edition of the Evening News.
"I think the notion of doing something else had been on my mind for a while. Things had been unsettled at The Early Show for a while and my contract was up," Clayson said.
"I'm looking forward to moving in a new direction."