Good Morning America was for years produced by ABC's entertainment division, before people got all huffy about "journalism." Now, as ABC contemplates what to do after Diane Sawyer departs for World News Tonight, it may be headed back.
A source familiar with the discussions inside ABC tells Gawker that among the options Disney/ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney is considering for GMA is returning some or all of the broadcast to the network's entertainment division, a move that would simply formalize the de facto devolution of GMA—along with the other the morning newscasts—into a music-and-cooking show dressed up as a news broadcast.
Charlie Gibson is hanging up his hat at World News Tonight in December, at which point Sawyer will ascend to the anchor chair. ABC is in panic mode as it tries to figure out how to remake the broadcast in her absence. CNBC's Dylan Ratigan was supposed to join the network and fill Sawyer's pumps after Gibson retired, but he reneged on his commitment to do so and jumped to MSNBC in May instead. Gibson and Sawyer declined to delay their own plans, so now ABC is casting about for a replacement—George Stephanopoulos, Bill Weir, and current GMA co-host Chris Cuomo are all being mentioned as potential anchors around which the show can be rebuilt.
But the makeover plans could extend beyond simply shuffling personnel: Sweeney, who is personally commanding the network's strategy for GMA, is considering more drastic options, including bringing the show into the fold of the entertainment division. The whole show could be run out of Los Angeles, or the first hour could be produced as a newscast by the news division with the remainder being handed over to entertainment.
A decision hasn't been made, and we're told that the idea is still just that at this point. Spokesmen for both ABC News and the network both vigorously deny that handing over any part of GMA to the entertainment division is on the table—news division spokesman Jeffrey Schneider says there's "zero discussion" of a handover, and network spokesman Kevin Brockman says "someone is blowing smoke up your skirt."
It's not a crazy idea: GMA may have been a laughingstock among "serious journalists" when it answered to Hollywood, but it was also the number one morning show until 1995, the year ABC handed it over to the news team in New York. And the intervening years haven't been kind to the notion that morning newscasts ought to be run with news values in mind: GMA producers digitally altered Whitney Houston's voice to make it sound less crack-addicted last month after the show's entertainment producer appealed to network brass in L.A. for permission. Any serious distinctions between the news side and the entertainment side went out the window long ago.
Such a move would be disastrous for ABC News—GMA reportedly brings in more than half of the news division's revenue, and the show is the division's biggest power center. But relieving it of the pretense of having to behave like a news show would free ABC up to engage in all sorts of advertiser-whoring behavior and ratings-friendly booking arrangements—the stuff that it already does in a half-assed way and has to pretend not to—and give it a chance to beat Today like it used to, before it had to pretend to be news. So it could be a tempting idea.