Robin Roberts and Diane Sawyer Open Up About Making Morning TV History

From the former Good Morning America duo’s bumpy on-air start to Roberts’ emotional cancer battles

When Roberts (r.) joined Sawyer as anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America in 2005, it marked the first time that two women had hosted a national morning news show. Yolanda Perez for Adweek

In 2005, one year after the launch of TVNewser (now owned by Adweek), morning news history was made when Robin Roberts joined Diane Sawyer as anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America. It marked the first time ever that two women had hosted a national morning news show. They worked side by side for five years, until Sawyer departed in 2009 to anchor ABC World News (she stepped down in 2014 and now focuses on long-form interviews and investigations as an ABC News anchor). ESPN alum Roberts—who had been a GMA contributor for a decade before she was named anchor—remains on the show, now alongside anchors George Stephanopoulos and Michael Strahan. As part of TVNewser’s 15th anniversary this month, and this week’s 30 Most Impactful TV Newsers of the Past 15 Years package, we reunited Roberts and Sawyer. The duo spoke with Adweek TV/media editor Jason Lynch and TVNewser editor A.J. Katz about their time together, including their bumpy start on-air, how Sawyer helped Roberts publicly and bravely share her cancer battle with GMA viewers—twice—and what they miss most about working together.

Adweek: What do you remember most about your early time together on GMA?
Sawyer: I’d been on for a while with Charlie [Gibson]. Robin shows up, and I just remember all the lights in the room being brighter. There was sun where there wasn’t sun.

Roberts: Diane always made me feel that way, but it was a bit intimidating. I was a little insecure coming from the sports world to, I mean, Diane Sawyer! But they never once, Diane in particular, made me feel like I didn’t belong.

Sawyer: I remember the first time or the second time I interviewed you on some sports thing on Good Morning America, and I mangled your name so badly and your title so horribly that you went, “Whatever!” and just turned to camera. [They both laugh.]

We’ve seen morning news duos with great chemistry, and others where it hasn’t been so good. It’s a job where you can’t fake that, or you only can fake it for so long. What was it about your chemistry that worked so well on GMA?
Roberts: She’s a good old Southern gal. We are mirror images of each other in a lot of ways and how we were brought up.

Sawyer: Sometimes I think we had the same parents.

Roberts: I often feel that way. After Hurricane Katrina, my sister was living with my mother for a time, and my sister said, “Do you know that Diane calls and talks to and checks in on Mom?” I was like, “What?!!?” And Diane never told me that. You can’t fake that. Yes, we care about the show, and we want to do well. But if it stops there and it’s not about who you are as a person and who you are outside of the studio … that’s something I never had to worry about with Diane.

Sawyer: We saw the world and what we wanted to cover in a lot of the same ways. You don’t just talk about the problem, you go in and try to help everybody understand what can be done if you can.

Diane, when you started at GMA back in January 1999, the perception at the time was that you were doing ABC News a big solid by coming in to help save the show, and it was probably going to be a short-term job.
Sawyer: Three months! I really thought that. It was either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve that they asked Charlie Gibson and I, and we both said, “OK.” I’d been on CBS Morning News and he’d been the great titan of morning television [on GMA from 1987-1998], so we both thought of it as a reunion. And then—10 years later!

This story first appeared in the Jan. 14, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@ajkatztv A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.
@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.