Disney/ABC Television Group chief Anne Sweeney told ABC employees Nov. 30 that no decision has been made about a co-host for Good Morning America.
The statement came at a town hall-style meeting for ABC employees, during which Sweeney was interviewed by GMA co-host Robin Roberts.
While Sweeney dismissed the rumor that ABC/Disney was considering a plan to move Good Morning America back under the purview of the entertainment division, when she was pressed on a successor for the World News bound Diane Sawyer, she answered “curtly,” said one source: “No decision has been made.”
With less than two weeks before Sawyer’s scheduled Dec. 11 exit from GMA, ABC News staffers are getting antsy waiting for an announcement about the fate of the program.
“It’s ridiculous,” says one staffer. “We make jokes about it all day.”
The holdup at least partly centers on George Stephanopoulos’ reluctance to give up This Week (which would leave ABC News with a second, albeit less significant, succession problem). Stephanopoulos was also said to be wary of compromising his news bona fides by doing the lighter segments that comprise the second hour of GMA and are a staple of morning television. And only doing the first hour of the program was a non-starter, said one ABC News executive.
But as time grinds down and the holidays disrupt schedules, getting the new team in place at Good Morning America is viewed with increasing anxiety inside ABC News. And ABC News’ Rubik’s Cube of anchors is such that the movement of one affects the rest.
Roberts is on vacation the week of Dec. 21 and there is no one on the schedule to fill in for her yet. If GMA news anchor Chris Cuomo is passed over for Sawyer’s job, he is free to leave per his contract. (Cuomo’s first meeting with ABC News President David Westin was not until mid-November, according to one source-two months after Sawyer’s ascension was announced. Not exactly a vote of confidence.)
GMA weekend co-host Bill Weir also had been mentioned as an heir apparent at the mothership, but his prospects have cooled, say sources. Meanwhile erstwhile MSNBC anchor Ashleigh Banfield is expected to join the network next year where she could host a daytime hour or possibly a de-facto third hour of GMA, say sources.
Meanwhile Sawyer, who officially assumes the anchor chair at World News in January, plans to anchor the evening broadcast on Dec. 21 and 22.
“She wants to fly under the radar,” says one staffer.
In other words, exactly what Katie Couric did not do when she took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News amid relentless media attention.
The GMA staff also was consumed Monday with fallout from the show’s cancellation of a scheduled performance by Chris Brown. Brown, who is promoting a new album, was scheduled to perform on GMA this week, say sources. He sat down with Roberts for an interview two weeks ago. It will be broadcast Dec. 4 on 20/20 with excerpts shown on GMA. ABC announced the interview this week.
The decision not to let Brown perform comes in the wake of intense criticism from gay and lesbian groups for the network’s decision to scratch Adam Lambert from GMA after Lambert’s racy performance at the American Music Awards. Apparently ABC did not want to appear hypocritical in giving Brown, who abused his former girlfriend Rihanna, a platform they denied Lambert.
“It’s a mess,” says a GMA staffer. “They’re worrying about Chris Brown, and we have no plan.”