Wake-Up Warrior

GMA’s Cibrowski pursues Today one day at a time
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For a man engaged in a pitched battle for morning-ratings dominance, Tom Cibrowski is remarkably calm. It’s not that the new executive producer of ABC News’ Good Morning America doesn’t understand the stakes: With the top-rated Today show on NBC still adjusting to life after Katie Couric, GMA has its first opportunity in a while to close the gap on its chief rival and grab a bigger share of more than $1 billion in morning-ad dollars.

But Cibrowski isn’t convinced that GMA needs to do a whole lot differently. “For the next year, people will be looking around and sampling,” he says. “We need to look our best and hopefully get some lucky breaks—exclusives and big bookings—to get some buzz for GMA.”

No stranger to the early shift, Cibrowski, 38, joined GMA as a senior broadcast producer in 2002, after two years at CBS News, where he helped launch Bryant Gumbel’s morning show. Along with Senior Executive Producer Jim Murphy, he is looking to fine-tune—not overhaul—the ABC broadcast and steadily win new viewers.

HARD NEWS AND HARDER “GETS”

Cibrowski began his career at ABC News, working as an intern in the Boston bureau while studying journalism at Boston University. After graduating in 1990, he joined the network’s Washington bureau, climbing from desk assistant to Nightline associate producer. He did stints at ABC’s Los Angeles, Atlanta and Seattle bureaus, covering a range of news stories, including that bombing in Oklahoma City, where he was one of the first network producers on the ground.

Cibrowski’s ABC News colleagues credit him with developing the tight, concise news summary in the first half-hour that has helped attract new viewers to GMA. “Tom brought an incredible passion for the news and a field producer’s knowledge,” says former Executive Producer Ben Sherwood.

But Cibrowski also relishes scoring big “gets” with celebrities and newsmakers, and intends to continue the aggressive approach exemplified by a famous 2005 episode in which GMA bookers whisked away jurors in the Michael Jackson trial to a private plane before other shows could get to them.

He says such competition makes morning TV exciting, and he doesn’t apologize for the tactics: “We make sure we are as fair as possible and as aggressive as possible—and that we get the guests on GMA.”

A successful morning show, Cibrowski says, needs to be an all-purpose newscast: the right mix of breaking news, service pieces and lighter features, like cooking segments. “Everything has to be fresh and relevant to people’s lives,” he says.

The last time GMA posed a serious challenge to a flagging Today was in the spring of 2005, when it came within 40,000 viewers and had NBC executives bracing for the ABC show to claim the No. 1 slot. But Today stabilized, steadied by new producers, and then improved its lead in the new year, thanks in part to the Winter Olympics and the long goodbye to Couric in May.

CHANGING MORNING HABITS

As for why GMA lost steam, Cibrowski says only that Today is a formidable competitor, adding, “It takes a long time to change morning viewers’ habits.”

While Couric’s replacement, Meredith Vieira, settles in at Today, GMA has been breaking in its own new family members, including newsreader Chris Cuomo and former WABC New York meteorologist Sam Champion. They join GMA veterans Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts, the show’s co-anchors since Charlie Gibson became anchor of World News in June.

To increase what Cibrowski calls “interactivity,” GMA launched “Q&A,” where viewers can submit questions to the anchors. ABC also is partnering with wildly popular video-sharing site YouTube for an undiscovered-band contest culminating during November sweeps.

As Cibrowski contemplates GMA’s ongoing battle with Today, his quiet confidence is almost Zen-like. “There is going to be a time when we beat them,” he says. “We’ll wait and keep working as hard as we can to make that happen.”

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