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This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It took more than 16 years, but in April, the anchors and producers of ABC’s Good Morning America did the improbable: They vanquished the 852-week ratings win streak of NBC’s Today, snapping a television phenomenon the industry is unlikely to see again.
“To change people’s habits in the morning is nearly impossible,” says GMA senior executive producer Tom Cibrowski. GMA did it by putting together a team of anchors — adding Josh Elliott, 41, and Lara Spencer, 43, to the show’s George Stephanopoulos, 51, Robin Roberts, 52, and Sam Champion, 51, in May 2011 — that has found the elusive morning TV chemistry so critical to success.
“Television can reveal who you are,” says Elliott. “The work that would go into faking the relationships that you see on TV would be overwhelming if they weren’t actual friendships.”
Save for Today‘s two-week reprieve during NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics, GMA has remained dominant. “Coming back and winning after the Olympics — that is the real achievement,” notes Stephanopoulos, whose political acumen has served GMA — and ABC News, where he anchors This Week — well during an election year.
To date, GMA stands as the No. 1 morning news program among viewers in the advertiser-coveted 25-to-54 demo. And GMA is leading Today by its largest season margin in total viewers (527,000) and the demo (110,000) in 21 years. It has done much of that without Roberts, who underwent a bone marrow transplant in September (she’s expected to return in early 2013).
GMA also has stepped up its breaking-news coverage and scored a series of impressive interviews: Roberts’ with President Obama endorsing gay marriage; Elliott’s with former Penn State president Graham Spanier, who said he was abused as a child; and Stephanopoulos’ exclusive with Robert Pattinson at the height of the actor’s amorous angst with Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart.
“For me, politics was a big part of my year, and it continues with the fiscal cliff,” says Stephanopoulos. “But you know, the Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart breakup was a close second.”
Adds Elliott, dryly, “Every time George sits with someone like Robert Pattinson, it’s can’t-miss television.”
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