Amy Robach has a unique take on the morning-show wars. She is a veteran of “Today” (she anchored the show’s weekend edition) and a relative newbie at “Good Morning America” (which she joined as a correspondent in 2012). So she has insight into both sides of the battle.
Her time at “GMA” has been marked by an experience most people would prefer to avoid. In October of last year, Robach received a mammogram on air during “GMA,” and then disclosed a month later that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her willingness to share parts of her ordeal on TV made for compelling TV and garnered significant attention.
Below, in a lightly edited interview, Robach talks about the “controlled chaos” of “GMA’s” set and how to balance personal disclosure with the need for privacy:
Variety: You actually have worked at both programs. What do you see as the differences between the two shows?
Robach: I’m the only person who went from being on a number-one show to being on a number-one show. Timing is everything. It has been incredibly rewarding to have been on both shows. I have to say it’s never been more fun than it is right now….When I came to “GMA” it was a completely different environment and it took me by surprise. I couldn’t believe how much fun everybody was having. Not that they don’t have fun on the ‘Today’ show, but it’s a whole new level. We’re doing a really good job of mixing up important news with the lighter moments. People get what they want to know in the morning and at the same time we get to kick back and have fun. Having Michael Strahan takes it to a whole new level. He’s just brilliant in his humor and what he adds to the show.
Variety: I noticed on the “GMA” set that you have a lot of crew members and walk-ons in the studio being quite noisy even when the show is live.
Robach: Oh my gosh, I had no idea it was so chaotic. It’s controlled chaos. This is just the energy we have. When we are laughing when we come back from a commercial break, we kind of have to explain why we are all still laughing and try to get to the next story. That’s really what happens and really shows the people at home – they get it, they know it, they see there is a real chemistry that bleeds over even when the cameras aren’t rolling.
Variety: Do you have ratings on your mind as you are focused on the program?
Robach: The people at “Today” are my dear, dear friends. They make us better. We operate as if we are 500,000 people behind, and we operate like we are still working to be number one. You have to have that competition in your head. We have to be doing our best every day.
Variety: You went through a very public ordeal on “GMA.” How do you determine how much to share and what is not something you ought to be telling your viewers?
Robach: I did not realize it was going to be as personal as it was. When I agreed to the mammogram, I was convinced to by producers and by Robin [Roberts], and it was a public service that ended up saving my life. I felt an absolute responsibility to pay it forward…This was my life, and I knew it was going to save people’s lives. For me, anyone who gets into journalism imagines having an impact on the way people think or motivate people to do something they wouldn’t have otherwise done. This isn’t something I ever expected to do…I felt a huge boost to know that I wasn’t alone, and the viewers let me know it, and I hope I helped them…
The balance is I don’t tell them everything. There are plenty of things I have kept private. We are gearing up for October, and I just got out of a meeting about how we are going to handle that and how we are going to follow it from last year. An update is due, I think. For anyone who has had a cancer diagnosis, you have to live with that. It’s not like you are relieved. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m done.” It’s something you live with for the rest of you life. I don’t want to dwell on it, [but] there are moments when, yes, here we are to remind people, to send a larger message. You can find moments to share.
I think it’s case by case. You feel it. I truly believe in my gut check and my gut has never let me down. If it feels wrong, then don’t do it. If it feels right, it’s because it’s something that needs to be said. I really just go on my gut check. There are probably things in my life I will never tell about, which is good for everyone. Trust me. I’m divorced, remarried, step-mom, blended family. There are a lot of things we all have but we tend to keep to ourselves for lots of reasons.
Variety: How have the morning shows evolved given the rapidly changing ways in which people watch TV?
Robach: I think that social media has absolutely changed the landscape for morning television. I never thought we would have a “Twitter mirror” or a “Spotify machine” in our studio…Today I used a verb in an interview with a band: ‘You’ve been Spotified this many times!’ I even feel older saying that. It’s not a natural thing for me to say. Using social media and getting on Twitter and getting feedback from viewers immediately…I could not have even imagined that a few years ago. It does change what we cover and how we cover things, what we say. You realize when you strike a chord and when you’ve done something well and also don’t do something so great.