Top-Rated 'GMA' Faces 'Nightmare' Contract Talks
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In September, Good Morning America marked an entire season as the No. 1 morning program -- the first time in 19 years the ABC show had done so. But in a fluke of timing, a majority of its on-air personalities -- Josh Elliott, Robin Roberts and Lara Spencer -- are negotiating new contracts, multiple sources tell THR. It is a scenario described by an executive at a competing news division as "a nightmare" for ABC News chief Ben Sherwood.
Not surprisingly, agents for the GMA crew quietly have been playing the field. Sources say representatives for Spencer, 44, and Elliott, 42, in particular have spoken to executives at NBC News. Both joined the show as anchors in 2011 as ABC News brass reconfigured GMA from its traditional dual-anchor format into an ensemble -- a successful move that Today also adopted recently.
Spencer and Elliott, who co-hosted the summer spinoff Good Afternoon America in 2012, are said to be looking to grow their brands through larger roles at ABC -- or elsewhere. Meanwhile, Roberts, 52, who returned full-time to GMA in September after a four-day-a-week schedule following a bone marrow transplant, has plenty of options within the Disney-ABC organization, including her own talk show. "There are a lot of things on the table for Robin," says one source.
Certainly, GMA's strong performance during the past year and a half gives its crew no small amount of leverage. The morning show had its largest audience in more than 21 years for the 2012-13 season. (Nielsen's electronic database began in September 1991.) It also bested Today by its widest margin (86,000) among viewers 25-to-54, the demographic upon which news programs are sold. The show's ratings remained impressively steady with multiple fill-in anchors including Amy Robach and Elizabeth Vargas.
"They definitely have leverage," says another source. "But there's also leverage on the other side."
That's because while Spencer and Elliott are integral to the GMA team and its historic toppling of Today's 16-year morning-news ratings win streak, big TV news jobs are scarce.
Anchor George Stephanopoulos, 52, who is paid nearly $6 million a year, according to sources, is signed through 2014. Although Spencer and Elliott can't hope to make that amount, the priority at ABC News is to keep the GMA team together. Says a network source: "Are there going to be big negotiations on the No. 1 morning show? Sure."