Is ‘Good Morning America’ a Stopover for Stephanopoulos?

By Gail Shister 

While many wonder how brainiac George Stephanopoulos will adjust to the bathetic world of morning television, it may be a moot point.

Judging by ABC’s recent history, “Good Morning America” anchors are next in line for the “World News” throne.

The newest, Diane Sawyer, leaves “GMA” after today’s show to anchor “World News” beginning Dec. 21, the day before her 64th birthday. She replaces her former “GMA” co-anchor, Charlie Gibson, 66, whose “World News” finale is Dec. 18.

Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric followed the same route – both left NBC’s “Today” to anchor “NBC Nightly News” and “CBS Evening News,” respectively.

For Stephanopoulos, however, it’s sort of a reverse commute. He’s going from host of “This Week” in Washington – a job he was born to do in a town that breathes politics – to New York’s “GMA,” where politicians share the stage with reality show rejects.

“‘This Week’ plays to all of George’s strengths,” says Bob Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television. “He’s an intellectual, an egghead. Perfect for Sunday. All his credentials point to it.

“I can’t see him showing up on Halloween dressed like Peter Pan.”

Regardless, Thompson adds, “GMA” is “the price he has to pay to be the face of ABC News in the future. It’s the quickest way.”

How quick? At 48, Stephanopoulos is almost 16 years Sawyer’s junior. But with her genes, drive and political savvy, there’s no telling how long she’ll hold the chair.

If or when she does step down, Stephanopoulos’ contract stipulates that he can leave the network if he’s passed over for the job, according to ABC insiders.

Marc Berman, senior TV editor at Mediaweek, says Stephanopoulos’ transition to “GMA” will be smoother than many predict.

“Even though he does the serious Sunday morning stuff, there’s a side to him that’s easy going. He’s got the looks, the experience, the credibility. He’ll be good from all angles.”

Au contraire, says Emily Rooney, former executive producer of “World News Tonight.” This is a bad career move for Stephanopoulos and a bad move for “GMA” unless ABC completely revamps the show, she opines.

“While I can understand why George would like to assume a bigger role at ABC… this is a hell of a sidetrack,” says Rooney, host and executive editor of WGBH’s “Greater Boston.”

“The mornings are just too silly, too frivolous. Too many stories about chimps tearing faces off and too many maudlin interviews with people who have lost loves ones to bizarre tragedies.”

The key to being an effective host on morning TV, says Steve Friedman, former executive producer at “Today” and the CBS “Early Show,” is “to be yourself and have a good time.

“The real you comes out when you’re on the air two hours a day, five days a week. You get to express yourself in all kinds of ways.”

Somewhat lost in the “GMA” story is the fate of co-anchor Robin Roberts. Her contract is up in the spring and negotiations are said to be contentious. The dealbreaker may be her proposed role with Stephanopoulos, ABC sources say.

Roberts responds to TVNewser, “That is utter and complete nonsense, I’m looking forward to getting started with the new team on Monday, tune in.”