My sister happened to mention the other day that she and her two daughters have stopped watching Good Morning America. “All they do is giggle – it’s so annoying!” she says.
I haven’t watched GMA much since I executive produced Robin Roberts on GMA Sunday back in 1998. And for the seven years before that, I beat GMA in the daily ratings when I created and showran the KTLA Morning News, the Los Angeles morning monster that became the highest-rated local morning show in history. I earned my Masters’s degree in morning news on the KTLA lot. So after watching this morning’s GMA, I’d like to give its current producers some unsolicited advice on why people like my sister and her two key-demo daughters are turning them off.
Today’s 2-hour show was the post-Superbowl episode, so let’s look at content first. Michael Strahan was in Houston where he told an interesting story about Tom Brady. And that’s exactly why Strahan is worth whatever millions they’re paying him – because he can get facetime with Brady right after his Superbowl win and share stories with viewers. Strahan told Brady he’s truly the best in this sport after that stunning turnaround, and Brady replied, “Michael, I’m not the best. But one thing I am is tired”. Access and stories are what makes Strahan valuable – at least when it comes to sports coverage.
TJ Holmes did a play-by-play of the game and also shared a story about Brady’s missing game jersey. The reason I point out these stories is because “storytelling” is the key buzzword these days in TV news. But so many journalists have absolutely no idea how to tell a good story, so I applaud TJ and Strahan. Then the show rejoined Strahan with a live interview with James White. This was an unfortunate mistake for a show geared squarely towards women viewers. They simply don’t care about James White. And that’s where this show heads off the rails. Too many “I don’t care” moments. “Live” interviews have always been the downfall of the network morning shows. They do far too many of them and consequently end up downplaying their own hosts because those TMI interviews are eating up all the time. I want to hear what Robin thought of the game – she’s an ESPN alum. Nobody asked her or George Stephanopoulos for their thoughts. These guys are your hosts and they’re being used just to “toss” from segment to segment. Essentially, they’re tossing away the show to lesser names. If you want to use them to “toss”, do what I did with Robin in the 1998 coverage of the Superbowl on GMA Sunday – have her toss a football around with her co-host as she’s preparing a tailgating party on-set. The networks, including GMA, have never learned how to showcase their stars. Case in point – not a single close-up of George in the entire two hours, while Robin got one closeup during a movie review segment. Lara, Ginger, TJ, Strahan and Amy are constantly cut on closeups, but Robin and George are regularly relegated to two-shots simply because the show is cross shot and that leaves the middle camera the two-shot-on-your-hosts-camera. This is a common directing mistake that diminishes your lead hosts.
Some breathless Trump coverage and weather followed, with Lady Gaga‘s halftime performance finally appearing at the half hour. GMA’s coverage of Gaga’s performance was excellent – until – they brought in Larry Hacket, managing editor of People Magazine. Again, one interview too many leading to another “I don’t care” moment. We don’t know what Robin and George thought of Gaga – they were kept busy tossing the show away to lesser names – and yes, those lesser-names got closeups.
Some news about a murdered jogger, Superbowl ad reviews and Ginger‘s weather wrap up the first hour. The 8AM hour is supposed to be the “let down your hair” show. Expect more of the giggle-factor. An audience is now brought in to the studio. I applaud GMA for taking a risk and seeing how the show plays with a live audience – taking risks is essential to creating a show with its own identity. But for this show, with this cast of characters, the audience is distracting. The audience isn’t referenced, they’re not used in a way to promote the hosts or to allow for any unplanned or “memorable” moments, they’re not used to allow the hosts to reveal some warmth with viewers – in short, the audience isn’t produced. They’re just in the way. And their faces are distractions in the background on the closeup shots of the sidekicks who are lucky enough to get closeups. This isn’t Kelly and Michael. Audience doesn’t work – dump ‘em.
Amy does some news, Lara comes on with some celebrity crap and we’re into a break. When we return, Paula Ferris runs down the hot Superbowl ads and then it happens again – one interview too many – Donny Deutsch is brought on to talk about some of the ads. He may be the Darrin Stephens of his generation, but sorry, I don’t care what he thought of the ads. I’d rather hear which ads Robin and George liked, but they’re just relegated to tossing. A break, a story about the queen, another break and we’re at the half-hour.
At 8:30, the show wraps up its on-going GMA Supercoach and Kid Correspondent segments. Don’t care about either one. Too many Superbowl sidebars for me. But we’re not done. Next are on-set guests from some ESPN show with their thoughts about the Superbowl. Again. Don’t care. Lara follows with a behind-the scenes look at Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog’s commercial. Cute. Far more entertaining than anything else presented this hour. Next is an interview with the stars of A United Kingdom. Couldn’t this have been post-taped? Who cares about these people or this movie? The show ends with a birthday cake for Amy. A great potential “family” moment with the cast, but blown off in a twenty-second goodbye.
Here’s the problem. The show’s consultants are saying the research reveals that GMA needs to be produced like a freight train which lost its breaks. Keep moving fast and furious from one segment or guest to another because today’s attention spans are nil. That results in a show that is cold, cluttered, crass and crowded. There’s no time to breathe. And that’s why network shows often lose to local morning shows – because they don’t let their shows breathe. There’s no time to just “allow” things to happen. And if by chance something does happen, there’s no time to let it play out because the next guest is waiting anxiously in the wings.
I produced many shows with Robin as host. She’s as warm as a furnace. She’s insightful. She’s opinionated. She’s spontaneous. And she’s a lot of fun. But she’s not allowed to be any of these things on the current GMA. There’s no time. And she’s not produced to reveal any of these qualities. Hell, she doesn’t even get a closeup. How is she going to share her warmth or her wit on two shots? That’s not how you produce or direct personalities.
The big, big fail on this particular show was a Melissa McCarthy moment. There wasn’t one. Since her appearance as Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live, Melissa is the queen of the Twittersphere. Everyone is talking about her. Everyone is replaying her performance over and over again. Everyone, that is, but GMA. I realize SNL is on a competing network, but viewers don’t care about that politics. Do a Melissa McCarthy segment – even if you can’t get Melissa on set. What did George think of McCarthy’s performance since he had Spicer’s job during the Clinton administration? We’ll never know.
Bottom line – GMA is still caught up in the battle between content and personality. Content is winning and the show’s unproduced personalities are the losers. The format isn’t built “around” the personalities, its built “in spite” of them. Robin and George aren’t being used as personalities – just as traffic cops. And despite a parade of successful local morning shows clearly demonstrating how attracting an audience is done, the networks still don’t see the profit in personalities. Of course they don’t. They’re not shot close enough to be seen.