Elliott’s ‘Crazy World’ at GMA

From Bin Laden to botox, news junkie delivers stories with verve
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One of the first things Josh Elliott noticed when he took over as news reader on ‘Good Morning America’ on May 2 is how much less airtime he has compared to his old gig as a ESPN SportsCenter coanchor. “I used to have 180 minutes every morning, and now I’m lucky if I have two,” says Elliott.

Not that he minds. Elliott is having fun getting used to morning news, which he calls the “wild wild west.” Instead of simply catching up on last night’s games, he now has to be on top of all major stories that are breaking around the world. “There’s a lot more to consume,” he says. But it’s a perfect lifestyle fit for a pop culture junkie who claims to stay up 20 hours a day, even if it’s just catching up on the latest videos on YouTube.

As much as he enjoyed the gig on SportsCenter, Elliott was ready to branch out. “There were other things I think I gradually felt like I was more interested in experiencing,” he says.

Little did he know that the first of those events would be covering President Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed—on his first day on the job, no less. “I could be at ABC News for 30 years, and I’m still going to be telling stories about day one,” he says.

After graduating from UC–Santa Barbara, Elliott stayed in the area and worked for the local newspaper. “After about three months I thought, this is just not for me,” he says of print reporting. “I just don’t want to do this.”

Elliot moved back to Los Angeles, where he tried his hand at many different types of professions, to no avail. He was at a crossroads. It wasn’t until he and a friend went on a five-month walkabout around the world that he started to get the itch. “When you’re in the slums of Cairo or you’re in the old city of Jerusalem, you start to feel the storyteller in you stir,” he says.

Elliott enrolled in the Columbia University School of Journalism. From there he landed a temporary gig at SportsIllustrated, filling in for three months; that “temp” job led to him staying at the magazine for six years, where his story topics ranged from Michael Jordan to covering the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 while he was in the Middle East on an assignment.

When Elliott first signed with an agent, he told his rep that one thing he would like to do someday is host Good Morning America.

But then, in 2005, “ESPN made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he says. After starting out on small shows on ESPN Classic, Elliott eventually became coanchor, alongside industry stalwart Hannah Storm, of a new live, morning SportsCenter. “It made the early hours far more bearable [working with Storm]…little did I know that far earlier hours lay in my future,” he says.

When the opportunity came up to join the GMA team, after years at the sports desk, Elliott claims it was “overwhelming. I’ve always had a lot of varied interests,” he says. ESPN even let him out of his contract early (being under the same Disney umbrella helped), and Elliott was thrust into what he calls a “brave, crazy new world.”

Elliott’s hiring was one of many changes that Ben Sherwood, ABC News president, made to GMA. “A talented writer, storyteller and live broadcaster, Josh will be a great addition to our team at GMA,” Sherwood wrote in a March 30 memo.

Elliott says the GMA changes are “just a tweak or two,” but those tweaks usually take time to gel. “It’s gonna be a process,” he says. “We’re not going to be completely oiled tomorrow.” However, he is enjoying getting to know his new crew and can’t help but fall back on sports parlance to talk about the place. “I could not ask for a better team,” he says. “I’m gonna dive for loose balls, I’m gonna throw some elbows, I’m just gonna get some rebounds and hope the team wins.”

Even though he considers himself a journalist first and foremost, Elliott can appreciate the lighter side that morning news can bring. “As much as I’m a news junkie, I will also watch the latest episode of Top Chef on Bravo, and wish that I could cook like that,” he says.

Elliott claims that one of the best things about working on Good Morning America is the variety of personalities you find any day on the set. “You can walk down a hallway and pass Henry Kissinger, the mom who gave botox to her 8-year-old, a marsupial and George Stephanopoulos,” he says. And that’s just his walk from makeup to his office.

E-mail comments to tim.baysinger@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays

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