Lunden steps down after 20 years
NEW YORK — KABC news anchor Lisa McRee has been officially anointed as Joan Lunden’s successor at “Good Morning America.”
McRee, 35, represents the first significant move by ABC News to rescue the ailing ayem show, which faces a steep ratings decline against NBC’s surging “Today.” McRee will replace Lunden — who’s stepping down after 20 years — on Sept. 8, and will eventually be joined by a successor to co-anchor Charlie Gibson, now being sought. McRee’s hiring was expected (Daily Variety, June 26).
But ABC News chairman Roone Arledge said he’s leery of making a dramatic overhaul all at once, with some observers expecting even this anchor change to cause some fallout among Lunden loyalists.
“Morning TV is very fragile,” Arledge said. “People don’t like sudden, violent change, so you have to go at it a little slowly.”
Exec producer to be named
The next step is the naming of a new exec producer to replace Marc Burstein, with a list of candidates now narrowed to two or three ABC producers and David Friend, the former exec producer at Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s “Extra.” That announcement is expected next week.
McRee’s five-year deal allows her to contribute segments to “Prime Time Live” and “20/20” newsmags.
Arledge called McRee “a terrific reporter, an excellent anchor, fun and well-informed,” and said protracted discussions were complicated by KABC’s reluctance to release her and, most of all, by McRee’s reservations about a bicoastal marriage.
“It’s really exciting and I’m so thrilled and appropriately nervous,” McRee said, “but it’s all tempered by the fact that I’m not going to see my husband.”
McRee married Paramount Pictures exec VP of production Don Granger 18 months ago. KABC has yet to name her replacement, but current 6 p.m. anchor Laura Diaz is considered a leading candidate.
McRee joined ABC News from WFAA Dallas in 1992, co-anchoring the overnight “World News Now,” contributing to the “Day One” newsmag and anchoring “Lifetime Magazine,” produced by ABC News for its partly owned cable network. She moved to L.A. in 1994, and currently co-anchors the 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. editions of KABC’s “Eyewitness News.” Last spring, McRee also anchored “Hip Pop,” a pilot for a proposed ABC newsmagazine that may yet resurface after some retooling.
McRee wouldn’t offer criticism of what ails “GMA,” and said that with her current schedule, “I haven’t been sitting up clicking around reviewing morning shows.” She said she’ll defer to ABC higher-ups about what needs fixing at “GMA,” where ratings have slipped 9% in the last broadcast season to a 4.0/17, while “Today” has climbed 9%.
“I trust whatever changes they make are the right ones,” McRee said.