According to two people with knowledge of the situation, ABC executives are potentially open to a plan to buy Elliott out of his $4 million-a-year contract at NBC, and put him back on “GMA,” so he can help the morning show fend off “Today,” which has been gaining in the key ad demo.
If the deal is reached, it’s not clear how soon Elliott would return, but it could mean a reshuffling of talent on “GMA.” A source says executives at ABC News believe the current lineup of personalities — led by George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, along with Amy Robach, Ginger Zee and Lara Spencer — isn’t as gender-balanced as it once was, which is why they are open to bringing Elliott back.
Another source says NBC has an incentive to cut Elliott loose, because he’s an expensive talent who hasn’t been producing much early into his four-year contract.
ABC denies that Elliot is returning to “GMA,” as does Elliott’s rep. “The rumor-mongering is ridiculous,” said a spokesperson for the network. “None of this is true. We have the best on-air team in the business. We’re all good.”
“Josh is under contract with NBC Sports, and the claim that either he or his agents have had any negotiations with NBC about leaving or with ABC about returning is categorically false,” said Elliott’s publicist Matt Hiltzik, adding that his client hadn’t met with the president of Disney/ABC Television Group. “Josh and Ben Sherwood have not spoken or met since Josh left ABC.”
A rep for NBC Sports declined to comment.
At NBC, Elliot had tethered his career to Jamie Horowitz, the onetime ESPN executive who came aboard to supervise “Today.” But Horowitz was pushed out in November just 10 weeks after beginning efforts to revamp the morning program. Elliott had gone to NBC with the impression that he’d be the heir to either “Today’s” Matt Lauer or Bob Costas at NBC Sports. Lauer signed a new contract in 2014, and Costas seems entrenched at NBC Sports. Meanwhile, the current producing staff at “Today” isn’t using Elliott, in a bid to keep him separate from Lauer.
Elliott was part of the team that helped “GMA” topple “Today” from first place in the morning in 2012. But when it came time to renew his contract in April 2014, Elliott clashed with his friend and mentor Ben Sherwood, the president of Disney ABC/Television Group, who was then head of ABC News.
According to sources, Elliott believed that Sherwood was taking too much credit for his career and frequently trash-talked his boss in meetings.
When contract negotiations became terse, Elliott was so eager to get away from ABC that he took a job from NBC Sports that was less than Sherwood’s offer ($5 million). The day that Elliott decided to leave ABC, Sherwood sent out a company-wide email blasting his former hire. “In good faith, we worked hard to close a significant gap between our generous offer and his expectations,” Sherwood wrote. Elliott never returned to “GMA,” and he said goodbye to the show on Twitter.
Insiders say tempers have now cooled on both sides. Network executives are aware that “GMA” has struggled to fight off “Today” after losing the talent that helped make it the No. 1 show on TV, as both Elliott and weatherman Sam Champion exited the show at around the same time in 2014. And by many accounts, Elliott has been unhappy at NBC.
According to sources, Elliott has recently started to mend fences with Sherwood, and the two have been exchanging texts. At the same time, he can’t be caught having official talks with ABC, as that could represent a breach of his contract with NBC.
This isn’t the first time the parent companies of ABC and NBC have traded talent among their news divisions. Last year, Disney let Horowitz out of his contract early in exchange for a release of “The Rachel Maddow Show’s” Bill Wolff, now the executive producer of “The View.” But that exchange didn’t turn out so well: Horowitz did not mesh well with “Today” staffers and NBC News executives, and Wolff has overseen the “The View” during a ratings collapse this season.
Brian Steinberg contributed to this story.