ABC Set To Bring GMA Home for the Weekend
By Steve McClellan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/14/2003 7:00:00 PM
ABC moved a step closer to re-launching weekend editions of Good Morning America last week. The affiliate board of governors unanimously passed a resolution urging the network to proceed with a plan for Saturday and Sunday editions to debut next fall.
If the plan does go forward—which is contingent on the rest of the affiliate body's agreeing to clearance—it would be the first time GMA has aired on the weekend since 1998, when a Sunday edition was cut because of low ratings.
But the network's news division has been lobbying for the better part of a year to reinstate the weekend versions, where NBC has Saturday and Sunday editions of Today and CBS has a Saturday edition of The Early Show. News executives also believe that a Sunday edition would provide a compatible lead-in to weekly public-affairs show This Week With George Stephanopoulos, which has trailed in the ratings of late behind both NBC's Meet the Press and CBS's Face the Nation.
According to Deb McDermott, chairwoman of the ABC affiliate board, many stations around the country also want the network to relaunch weekend versions. "GMA is in a real good position to expand," she said last week. "We very much want them to do it."
Ideally, the network would like 100% clearance of the weekend shows when they launch in the fall. McDermott said that's probably not realistic given other program commitments that some stations have beyond next September. But, over time, it could happen, she said, noting that many stations have already expanded or are in the process of expanding their weekend hours of local news programming.
ABC News President David Westin described the plan to expand GMA as a "mutually beneficial initiative" with the affiliates. An expansion to the weekends, he said, would serve viewers and "strengthen the entire GMA franchise."
It wasn't too long after ABC canceled the previous weekend version of the broadcast that it also revamped the weekday edition, bringing in ABC News stars Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson to front the broadcast. That was supposed to be a short-term fix, until new recruits could be found. That was in 1999. But the short-term fix turned out to be the best fix, and Gibson and Sawyer are still there.
Details on format, time periods, production and talent are all to be determined, ABC officials said. But several things are certain. Both the Saturday and Sunday versions will be an hour long. Also, the Sunday edition will lead into This Week, and the network will continue to provide four hours of Saturday-morning children's fare, at least three of hours of which will meet FCC "educational" requirements.
Word of the GMA developments emerged from a meeting between network executives and the affiliate board last week, when the two sides also agreed to continue efforts to develop a joint digital news channel.
Much of the meeting involved briefings on programming plans for the rest of the season and next season, said McDermott, executive vice president, Young Broadcasting.
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