When Good Morning America launched a nation-wide search Sept. 20 for a "21st Century advice guru" to join the ABC News morning program, executives expected a healthy response. But they were unprepared for a deluge of applications - more than 10,000. And an underlying theme quickly emerged; many of the submissions where from victims of the Great Recession. To be sure, applicants gainfully employed in the advice industry - therapists, high school guidance counselors - are well represented. But the chance to land a "full-time, on-air position," according to the ABC promo, also prompted a barrage of applications from those with no professional experience. They are simply from the swollen ranks of pink-slipped Americans.
"I've been surprised and heartened by the responses," says Jim Murphy, executive producer of GMA. "The disheartening part is how many people just really want to finds a job. Some people have written very touching stories about where they are in their lives and what this could mean to them."
The advice guru, a sort of Dear Abby of morning TV, will have an on-air role and will also pen an advice column for the GMA web site.
Since applications started rolling in last month, the staff at GMA has spent their spare hours sifting through thousands of applications. The submission deadline is, thankfully, midnight tonight (Oct. 15).
"I take them everywhere with me," says Murphy. "I take them on planes."
Hopefuls were asked to write a 300-word essay outlining their qualifications, answer several questions and submit a photo. Once the applicants are narrowed to a few hundred, the GMA staff will do phone interviews and when the field is winnowed to a dozen or so, contenders will be put through on-camera auditions. Murphy says he hopes to be able to announce GMA's new advice guru early in the New Year.
"There are a lot of talents involved here," he says. "You have to be smart. You have to be a very good writer. You have to prove that you really do understand how to delicately deal with issues that are important to people."
Advice - whether in the realms of personal finance, health and nutrition or child rearing - has been a staple of morning television since the genre's inception. And plucking the next TV star from the ranks of an anonymous public has become its own genre.
"We were trying to think of something that would enhance both our online business and the television program," says Murphy. "And advice columns have been a big part of American life ever since they started in papers. So it's just good original content to have on the web and it brings something to the television program."
And if GMA can give an out-of-work American a job in the process, all the better.