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Michael Strahan, Sara Haines Will Carry ‘GMA’ From Morning to Afternoon

Walk into a room containing Michael Strahan and Sara Haines and you’re going to get a jolt. This duo radiates energy. Now ABC needs to figure out a way to harness it.

Haines and Strahan will on Monday lead an ambitious bid by the Walt Disney-owned network to expand its flagship morning program, “Good Morning America,” to a new afternoon perch. “GMA Day,” slated to air at 1 p.m. weekdays, is seen as a way to add a third hour to the A.M. flagship, extending its presence on the network.

This new hour hinges on the heartwarming, however, not the headlines. “You probably need to be taken away from some of the more serious things out there, and I think this is really it,” says Strahan, who vows the program will be “very fun. It’s a show that is inspiring at times.”

The two hosts promise to deliver a series that will include some of the usual daytime-TV staples – celebrity interviews, cooking segments, health-and-wellness features, feel-good stories – but with a few twists. “We want to make sure when you tune in, you leave knowing something, that you are learning with us,” says Haines. “You can check out for an hour to be with us. You will leave a little better, but you will definitely leave happier.” ABC is keen on making sure viewers have a “takeaway” from many of the show’s segments.

Behind the light banter is serious business. ABC is hoping the duo can carry their morning mainstay into other parts of the day – and generate new money for the franchise. “GMA” generated approximately $359.1 million in ad dollars for ABC last year, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending. That figure is significantly lower than what NBC gets from the first two hours of rival “Today,” which have in the past nabbed more than $500 million in a year. One way to wring more revenue out of “GMA” is to broaden its presence, giving advertisers more of the property to sponsor.

The network is banking on the hosts’ chemistry to spark a reaction with daytime viewers. During an interview at the “Good Morning America” studios in New York’s Times Square, Haines and Strahan tease one another, describe trying to beat each other at basketball, and vow to make audiences want to find the show even if they have to watch later at night.

“We love to laugh. We love absurdity,” says Haines. She hopes audiences will treat the program like a big must-see. “When you sit home and watch a viral video, and you go ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe they said that!’  You can watch that any time, anywhere, on any device.”

The two say they have known each other for years and can’t fake their rapport. “If we are on the show ‘acting’ like we like each other, ‘acting’ like we are interested in something, then that comes across as phony,” says Strahan. “People are smart enough now, as many choices as they have, they don’t have to see something they don’t feel is authentic.”

A third hour of “GMA” is an easier prospect to pitch to Madison Avenue than a brand-new series. “As ‘GMA’ is such a proven and successful franchise in its own right, having a daytime extension show should fit seamlessly into their schedule,” says Dave Sederbaum, senior vice president of video activation at media-buying agency Carat. “For many clients who already support both ‘GMA’ and daytime in general, adding ‘GMA Day’ would not be a ‘hard-sell,’” he adds.

Media buyers are counting on viewers’ familiarity with the morning program, as they suggest ABC has not offered a wealth of detail about the content of the new show. Strahan and Haines have been in rehearsals this week and producers are narrowing down which segments, topics and ideas seem to work best.

“I probably would be surprised if it bombed,” says Lisa Herdman, senior vice president and director of national video and branded entertainment for ad agency RPA. “They are taking a page from Kathie Lee and Hoda, Kelly and Ryan and other daytime shows. It’s going to be very much in that vein.”

One advertiser has already struck a deal to be incorporated into the program.  Hershey’s will be woven into the September 13 broadcast when Strahan and Haines share the story of Bob Williams, an Iowa man who has found joy by passing out Hershey’s bars to people over two decades.  Hershey’s employees are expected to take to the “GMA” studio and the streets around it and pass out the confectioner’s famous milk-chocolate bars. That date also happens to be founder Milton Hershey’s birthday.

Both hosts are betting on the new show as well. Haines left a stint on “The View” to take part, and notes she has always wanted to co-host a show in which she plays off a partner. And Strahan, who typically doesn’t work at “GMA” Mondays during football season because he flies to Los Angeles each weekend to work for Fox Sports, will suit up for the new hour that day. He will maintain his other “GMA” duties and launches the new show even as he also takrd up additional duties at Fox for “Thursday Night Football.”

ABC experimented with an afternoon presence for “Good Morning America” in the not-too-distant past. Josh Elliott and Lara Spencer co-anchored a short run of “Good Afternoon America” between July and September of 2012 in a separate bid to test expansion of the franchise.

Viewers are likely to try to compare the new “GMA Day” to either the flagship or a program like ABC’s syndicated “Live,” where Strahan rose to greater fame. But this new hour boasts a critical difference, Strahan says: “This is something that is starting from scratch.”

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