Sunday, March 23, 2014

Why "Good Morning America" Could Crumble Soon

Just one year after ABC News came out of the morning television race victorious, it seems as though all hell is about to break loose.

Josh Elliott, Good Morning America's newsreader, currently has four weeks left on his contract. ABC representatives are currently offering him a $4 million deal but Elliott's reps aren't satisfied.

Elliott has been credited for being part of the solution which moved "GMA" to it's #1 ranking and he believes he should be paid somewhere in the $8 million range according to the New York Post.

It doesn't help that Lara Spencer's contract is also up for renewal. Spencer and Elliott are seeking a bigger role in the ABC family and a better salary after Robin Roberts received an extension worth $14 million.

The trouble doesn't end there. George Stephanapoulos's contract ends sometime in 2014. It is believed that his contact expired in January but obviously he's still an active member of ABC News since he hasn't missed any time off. 

If his contract actually did expire in January, there are clues that he might have received a temporary extension other than the fact that he still shows up to work.

It was announced in February that Stephanapoulos would split his co-hosting duties on "This Week" with other ABC News correspondents. Because of the stability Stephanapoulos brings to the Sunday morning political show, I doubt this move was initiated by ABC execs.

My theory is that Stephanapoulos temporarily extended his contract with ABC News in exchange for more off time on "This Week" and a deeper negotiating period to come.

How "World News" Affects "GMA"

It is well known that Stephanapoulos is aiming to become the next anchor for "World News" after Diane Sawyer. But there are some boundaries getting in his way.

The first boundary goes by the name David Muir. Muir is rumored to be favored by both Sawyer and ABC execs as the next person to take over the throne.

ABC recently extended his contract and gave him a promotion as the co-host of "20/20," but how long can ABC keep him happy there until he decides that he wants more?

The second boundary is Diane Sawyer. Sawyer is in her 60s but doesn't seem inclined to want to leave anytime soon. To be honest, there's no reason for her to leave in the first place. 

She still does her job very professionally to the T (with the exception of Election Night when some thought she was drunk) and she's holding the ratings steady against Brian Williams, who seems to be unbeatable.

ABC has very few holes to fill for a lot of people and the storylines all intertwine with each other. 

1. Re-sign Josh Elliott for $8 million or not? If you re-sign Elliott for $8 million, you keep "GMA"'s chemistry on the right footing and most of all, you have a heir to George Stephanapoulos' GMA chair. Stephanapoulos will be leaving his GMA chair in the next couple of years, months or days and right now there's no one better suited for the role than Elliott.

If Elliott does decide to leave, where can he go? He is rumored to be talking to NBC in a part-time news/part-time sports role (similar to Bob Costas and Bryant Gumbel's skillsets) but there's no room for him. "Today" just added Carson Daly, Willie Geist and Tamron Hall to their staff and Matt Lauer isn't leaving for at least another year or more. MSNBC might be able to fit him on "Morning Joe" but all other slots are taken.

There's no room for him in NBC's sports department either. NBC already has Costas, Dan Patrick, Liam McHugh, Dan Hicks and Al Michaels under their stable. Unless one of those guys leaves their perches, where does Elliott fit in? And I doubt NBC wants to start another low-rated talk show on their sports network like they did with another ex-ESPNer, Michelle Beadle.

This is why at the end of the day, ABC still has leverage over Elliott. Unless a departure falls into his place at 30 Rock, Elliott will have to continue to call Times Square home.

2. Re-sign Lara Spencer or not? This seems most likely event to occur. Spencer's representatives don't seem to be struggling with ABC according to the NYP. If Elliott decides to leave, it may even leave room for ABC to pay Spencer more than they initially would've.

Spencer doesn't have any leverage either because there are no other networks vouching for her to move. Her most comfortable landing spot could be something such as a HGTV hosting gig, but she would never be able to make as much money in that role as she does now with "GMA".

The only thing that might throw Spencer's negotiations off is if Elliott is able to convince ABC to pay him $8 million. It would be almost disrespectful for Spencer to continue in that role getting paid less than Elliott when they fulfill the same purpose for the show and it's very unlikely ABC is willing to pay $8 million to both of them.

If Spencer does decide to leave, expect Sara Haines to take her place.

3. How long will Stephanapoulos stay with "GMA"? When Stephanapoulos signed on to join "GMA," it was common knowledge that he was taking over to build his repertoire for the top role at "World News". 

As the years go by, Stephanapoulos's patience is winding down. In my opinion, as long as Sawyer stays and he's being primed to take her place then Stephanapoulos will stay. But if Stephanapoulos continues to take a back seat to David Muir in both the headlines and substitution roles on "World News", then it may be time for him to say his last goodbyes even though he's worked so hard for this dream.

CBS and CNN will take him in a heartbeat. He could easily become the face of CNN alongside Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer or he could become the newest and youngest face of "60 Minutes" at CBS whilst also covering the biggest stories in the world. CBS is launching a digital news network soon and if they could convince someone as big as Stephanapoulos to pave the way, it would be a huge win for them.

4. Possibilities from most likely to least likely but still possible:

Stephanapoulos and Spencer IN/Elliott OUT
Stephanapoulos, Spencer, Elliott IN
Stephanapoulos, Elliott IN/Spencer OUT
Elliott, Spencer IN/Stephy OUT
Elliott, Spencer, Stephy OUT

5. Nuclear Option: If all three leave the show over the course of the next 6 months or if two of three leave together (particularly Elliott and Spencer), "GMA" is back to square one. "Today" has finally found a pep to their step again and they're just waiting for "GMA" to screw up. This would be it.

If only one of them leaves, as long as it's cordial like Sam Champion's departure was, the show will move on and continue it's dominance.

6. My gut feeling/prediction: This story reads too much like Ann Curry's for George Stephanapoulos. Muir is a young, handsome anchor who can easily draw the female demographic. He also appears on "World News" with Sawyer more than Stephanapoulos does and he's helped increase ratings in the demo. 

I foresee Stephanapoulos leaving "GMA" under bad circumstances (although nowhere near as bad as Ann Curry) with Elliott taking the anchor chair at "GMA," Muir taking over "World News" and Spencer staying where she is at the "Pop News Desk". We'll see this movement start to progress in about 6 months or less.

"GMA" will keep it's ranking in first place while Stephanapoulos will leave for CNN.

CONCLUSION: Why could "GMA" crumble? Because ABC risks losing a future heir to the top host chair at "GMA" and they risk losing the person who currently holds that top host chair if he's not given the promotion he deserves sooner rather than later. They also risk the chance of losing chemistry if more than one piece to the puzzle leaves such as the potential departures of Elliott/Spencer together.

UPDATE: I was wrong. Stephy has signed a long-term contract to stay at "GMA" while Josh is OUT.

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