‘Everybody Thinks the First 40 Years Are the Best. That’s Baloney’

By Chris Ariens Comment

During a champagne toast following a 40-hour long livestream which celebrated 40 years of Good Morning America, Disney/ABC TV president Ben Sherwood reminded everyone packed into the second floor of the GMA studio, that he’s looking forward, not back.

“Everybody thinks the first 40 years are the best,” said Sherwood, who was ep of GMA from 2004-2006. “That’s baloney. We are focused on the next 40. And the battle starts again in 22 hours.”

It was a directive, buried in a toast: the morning show ratings fight continues, unabated.fgolds

GMA overtook NBC’s long-dominant Today show in 2012 and remains the most-watched morning program. But Today has reclaimed No. 1 among the demographic that matters most to advertisers. Today has now won the 25-54 demo 11 weeks straight.

Ratings aside, this morning was a celebration for a once also-ran network morning show that has stood the test of time. More than two dozen current and former hosts and news readers, meteorologists and health experts jammed GMA’s studio, first on the ground floor, where a symbolic passing of the coffee mug preceded an all-out party on the second floor which included a set from singer Pitbull and a cameo from Today show co-host Kathie Lee Gifford.

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Kathie Lee Gifford shares a hug with Diane Sawyer at GMA’s 40th anniversary celebration.

David Hartman told TVNewser about the “metamorphosis” the show has undergone since his time as GMA’s first anchor from 1975-1987. “With the technology of today, we wouldn’t have ever been able to do what they’re doing,” he said.

Nancy Dussault, Hartman’s first co-host, said they were all given about a week to prepare for that first show, on Nov. 3, 1975. “Then they said, ‘we want you to write the gossip stories.’ And I said, ‘I’m not a writer,’ and they said, ‘Well you are now!'” In the early days, the show was a product of ABC’s entertainment unit, not the news division.

Joan Lunden, co-anchor from 1980-1997, talked about what a rare phenomenon it was in 1980 to bring her 8-week-old daughter, Jamie, to the studio. Lunden had it in her contract that she would be allowed to breast-feed at work. ABC even went so far as to set up a news conference, during which the newborn became known as “New York’s youngest commuter.” Jamie, now 35 years old, was at her mom’s side this morning, and even brought her own 8-week old to share in the GMA 40 for 40 celebration.

Lunden, who had a breast cancer scare in 2014, says she’s “doing great. I did the most aggressive form of treatment.”

More recent former GMA hosts Josh Elliott and Sam Champion were back at the Times Square studio for the first time since both left the show, within a few months of each other, in early 2014.

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Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer during the GMA 40th anniversary show.

Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer, co-anchors from 1999-2006, were overcome with emotion as a video aired of their coverage of the 9/11 attacks.

Gibson, Lunden and Sawyer as well as current co-anchors George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, and ABC News president James Goldston, who was senior ep of GMA from 2011-2012, all delivered toasts. “There are some marriages that haven’t lasted as long as this toast,” Gibson joked, as former on-air talent including Antonio MoraSandy Hill, Kevin Newman, Lisa Mcree, Steve Bell, Kathleen Sullivan, Mike Schneider, Morton Dean, John Coleman, Spencer Christian, Mike Barz, Dr. Tim Johnson and Dr. Nancy Snyderman looked on.

Sherwood finished his toast quoting Gibson. “He said, ‘they are the best three words in television: Good Morning America.'”

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Charlie Gibson gives a toast at GMA’s 40th anniversary celebration.

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Michael Strahan photobombs Amy Robach, Josh Elliott and Lara Spencer.

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Diane Sawyer toasted all the people behind the scenes who put the show together.

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The cake, the crew and Pitbull.

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ABC News president James Goldston: “What a show that was…here’s to 40 more years.”

(Photos: Chris Ariens)

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