Slipping ‘GMA’ needs ayem pick-me-up

Recent ratings drop in key demos

NEW YORK — If recent ratings are any indication, “Good Morning America” needs a wakeup call.

In January 1999 the ABC News ayemcast relaunched with a spanking new Times Square studio and new hosts Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer. ABC News execs were optimistic that the flagging franchise could give NBC News’ “Today” a run for its money.

The novelty worked for a while, but over the past few months, “GMA” has seen its ratings drop, particularly in the key ad-friendly demos of women 25-54 and women 18-49.

Of course, part of the dip is due to the boost that CBS News’ “The Early Show” has gotten from its “Survivor” Fridays, where the show features the castaway voted off the hit reality show the night before.

“GMA” was also helped last year by the fact that “Millionaire” was going gangbusters in ABC’s primetime lineup. “Millionaire” winners frequently appeared on “GMA,” which was promoted during commercial breaks of the hit gamer. Now that the gamer’s audience is older, “GMA” is aging too.

Rather than narrowing the gap with category front-runner “Today,” in some key demos, “GMA” is now trying to hold its advantage over third-place “Early Show.”

Looking at the period from Jan.1-May 4 compared to the same period last year, “GMA” has dipped 11% in total viewers (4.2 million from 4.7 million), 11% in adults 25-54 (1.6/13 from 1.8/15), 20% in women 18-49 (1.6/13 from 2.0/16) and 16% in women 25-54 (2.1/14 from 2.5/17), according to Nielsen.

“Survivor: The Australian Outback” began airing on CBS Jan. 28 and wrapped with its season finale on May 3.

“There are clear pendulum swings here for a reason. We see the one day ‘Early Show’ ratings kick and then they fall off the cliff and drop back down the other four days,” says “GMA” exec producer Shelley Ross. As far as women 25-54, the key ad-friendly demo for the ayem, Ross says they’ll return to ABC now that “Survivor” is over.

Of course, “Survivor” will be back again in the fall, and, in the meantime, “GMA” has other issues to contend with.

Foremost among them is the question of how long the Diane-Charlie team will be on the air. When they initially signed on, it was supposed to be an interim assignment, but it’s now been 2-1/2 years of early-rising.

Ross wouldn’t address the question of how long the duo will stick it out, except to say: “Much to our competitors’ dismay, they are here. They are strong. They are happy.”

Meanwhile, in an effort to attract younger viewers, “GMA” is developing a roster of talent including NBC News star Claire Shipman, former White House press secretary George Stephanopoulos, Lara Spencer and ESPN’s Robin Roberts.

Jack Ford and Elizabeth Vargas will continue to be the primary substitutes for Gibson and Sawyer, although it’s unlikely they’ll be the ones to succeed them permanently.

When Sawyer recently went on vacation and Vargas filled in, the show’s numbers dipped dramatically.

Nonetheless, the real problem with the show, others say, is Sawyer and Gibson.

“They’re not perky,” says TN Media’s Stacey Lynn Koerner. And that — in the morning — may be the ultimate insult.

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