The co-anchors of ABC’s “Good Morning America” had a lot of news to deliver to the show’s early-rising viewers Tuesday morning. There were interviews with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to present and something gossipy to relate about musician Chris Brown. But there were also some headlines about the show itself.
When ABC launched its decades-old morning-show franchise earlier today, it did so with popular host Michael Strahan alongside Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos – the first tangible on-screen sign of how the program is shifting as it grapples with ratings declines that have threatened its status as the nation’s most-watched morning-news program. Strahan, who previously held sway with co-host Kelly Ripa on ABC’s syndicated “Live!” program and who continues to work for Fox Sports as a football commentator, even got to take part in the voice-overs that start the show, although he was relegated to talking about a sports story, not about politics or hard news.
“It does feel like the first day of school around here,” noted Roberts in the show’s opening moments.
Indeed, “GMA” may have a slightly different look, as Strahan’s entry brings with it some changes for other members of the “GMA” on-air coterie as well as an experiment with a new format for the program. Strahan had a presence throughout the broadcast’s two hours, moving outside for set-ups with the usual crowd gathered outside the show’s Times Square studio, and taking part in most segments, whether they be hard-news or lifestyle focused. After Robin Roberts interviewed Tom Hanks, Strahan interviewed Meg Ryan. Stahan was present as Stephanopoulos led the opening segment, which featured “World News” anchor David Muir presenting exclusive interviews with the Democratic and Republican candidates for president and vice president.
ABC News appears to be trying to move the show into a new era. “Good Morning America” powered past NBC rival “Today” in 2012 and captured first place from that stalwart, and did so by relying on an image of the show’s entire coterie of anchors. “GMA” was a sort of family, and Roberts and Stephanopoulos had an easy rapport with Josh Elliott, Sam Champion and Lara Spencer.
Times have changed since that moment. “Today” now wins more viewers in the demographic most coveted by advertisers, people between 25 and 54. And both the NBC program and CBS’ “CBS This Morning” have refined their approach, focusing less on the range of personalities that populate a morning show and more on delivering audiences the news they need from the outset. The CBS show,which has gained in the ratings, has no meteorologist and no separate news anchor to read headlines. NBC recently eliminated the news reader post on “Today” after dispatching Natalie Morales to Los Angeles. Meantime, with Roberts, Stephanopoulos and Spencer holding forth with Amy Robach, Ginger Zee and a part-time Strahan, overall “GMA” viewership has fallen 9% season to date as of the week ending August 26, while viewership among the 25-to-54 crowd is down 19% in that same time period.
ABC is pushing back. The network on Thursday is expected to introduce a half-hour segment at 8:30 a.m. in which Strahan and the other hosts interact with a live in-studio audience of about 100 people. Some of that crowd appeared to make its way on to the “GMA” set Tuesday morning. During one segment, Stahan welcomed musician and rapper Usher on to the set for a brief conversation and some ersatz voice lessons.
With Strahan so much more involved in the show, there could be some other shifts. Amy Robach is expected to have a more pronounced presence in the first hour of “GMA,” when the show focuses more on the headlines, while Lara Spencer could have a more prominent roost in the second hour, when the program tends to emphasize lifestyle segments – and, going forward, the in-studio crowd. On Tuesday, Robach could be spotted throughout the two hour broadcast. And Spencer, who has been off the show thanks to recent hip-replacement surgery, phoned in to the program.
Strahan, a former defensive end with the New York Giants, once set a record for the most sacks in a season. With ABC working doggedly to maintain whatever advantage it has left in the morning, the popular broadcaster may have to work even harder to keep his team in the game.