GMA’s General in the Morning-News War

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As the fall season looms, ABC News’ Good Morning America is gearing up for its battle with a Katie Couric-less Today show on NBC. Last week, it added Primetime host/legal reporter Chris Cuomo as news anchor and WABC New York meteorologist Sam Champion to join co-anchors Robin Roberts and Diane Sawyer.

Leading GMA’s campaign is Senior Executive Producer Jim Murphy, a veteran network producer who most recently was executive producer for the CBS Evening News and previously worked on CBS morning shows. Murphy talked to B&C’s Allison Romano about catching Today, the balance between hard and “soft” news and what he makes of CBS’ plans for Couric.


Why were Cuomo and Champion your picks to round out the cast?

Sam is one of the best weathermen in the nation. I’ve been wondering for a long time why he didn’t have a national platform; now he does. Sam is a great student of television and he brings a level of knowledge and wisdom that is key to viewers.

In our mix of people, Chris is a standout. He is a news anchor-plus. His beat—legal—which he aggressively covers, is important to morning television. He will be bringing us big stories as well as doing the news. He brings an awful lot to the show.

GMA now has one really big household name in Diane Sawyer, going up against Today’s four household names. How do you compete?

We grow our names into household names. But it is not fair to say we have one. Robin Roberts is quite well-known and popular, so we have two. Chris is fairly well-known and Sam is one of the most famous people on television in New York. We’re going to cover the news very well. Sure, [Today has] big names, but we have people that can compete with them, and we will grow.


Newscasts went from heavy coverage of the war in the Middle East to wall-to-wall reporting on the JonBenet Ramsey case. Have morning shows gone too soft and too tabloid?

I think we have the right mix now. When there’s a very big story, these shows are platforms for getting on breaking news early and covering it very well. We were incredibly aggressive on the London terror plot and ended up going live for five hours across the country from 7 a.m. to noon.

We were just as aggressive and active in updating the morning after the Karr arrest [in the Ramsey case]. People like and expect a wide range of editorial in the morning, and it means just about anything fits. But we don’t want to go over the edge with tabloid; we’ve discussed some things we liked and disliked about our own Karr coverage.


Such as?

A couple of times I thought there might be one sound bite too many. Even in a story like that, it’s about informing people with what is relevant and moving a story forward. It is not about constantly repeating the same thing or putting on the most salacious material.

The assumption is, people will just watch anything, but I don’t think that is true. You have to be careful about your editorial mix and what you use.

On Sept. 13, Meredith Vieira starts at Today. What will GMA look like that day?

It is going to look like GMA. We are out to establish our own identity, our own style and our own broadcast. The Today show is a machine that cooks with well-known players, and they are adding one more well-known player. We have a team that stands out for different reasons.

What is your timetable for trying to catch Today? Is it a one-year plan?

It takes that long for a lot of things to be noticed. Numbers move glacially in most news dayparts. After the first couple of months, the real competition will begin. I expect, if there is going to be any change, you are looking at it coming in winter and spring.

How critical are hits like Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy to GMA’s success?

It helps. We see that across the board. If people become glued to one station in their lives, it helps you. We also have many people devoted to GMA.


How engaged is Diane Sawyer? There is speculation she wants out. Do you get a sense of her plans? Is she here to stay?

She is incredibly engaged. She is the single smartest and most insightful broadcast journalist I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with a lot of smart people in this industry.

I expect she is going to come to play this fall and stay for a really long time.

CBS is revealing details of Katie Couric’s newscast. What would you do if you were still executive producer?

I would make sure that I figured out how to make a portion of the broadcast reflect her strength and sensibility. Without putting something of that person into there, you’re not doing much to change [things]. They are doing a lot of nifty things, like Free Speech [on-air commentary by CBS staffers and guests], that we—I mean they—hope will work out.

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