Monday, November 16, 2009
Good Morning, and Good Luck
Man, two pieces on ABC News in one day -- bring on the set of steak knives.
If you believe the chatter on the internet right now, George Stephanopoulos is a near-lock to take the reins of Good Morning America following the departure of Diane Sawyer -- with the future of Stephanopoulos's current show, This Week, being the only potential impediment to the deal.
The thing is, that's a hell of an impediment.
In the Sunday morning political show wars, This Week has always lagged behind NBC's perennial powerhouse, Meet the Press. But the former has begun gaining ground lately, and there's no doubt that part of the reason is Stephanopoulos's well-earned political clout, simultaneously easygoing and tenacious style, and the changes that have been made to the show during his time at the helm. Factor in NBC's inexplicable decision to put David Gregory in place as the host and moderator of MTP following the untimely death of Tim Russert -- Gregory being the guy who, although certainly a fine White House correspondent, is also known for his dance moves alongside both "MC Rove" and, even more amusingly, the staff of the Today Show, on which he often filled in -- and you have a weakness in This Week's competition and an object lesson for Stephanopoulos.
NBC wanted Gregory to "do it all," be both a rabid political pit bull and an adorable show pony on its light-as-a-feather morning show (which has turned into little more than a four-hour commercial for other NBC Universal shows across the network's many entities anyway these days). Granted this kind of myopic thinking goes back to the days when CBS pushed Edward R. Murrow to do celebrity interviews that he loathed being associated with. Even at the time, Murrow knew that once you surrendered your gravitas, it was tough to get it back and make the public see you as anything but a guy who peddles fluff.
This is the issue that ABC is going to run into if it tries to give Stephanopoulos Good Morning America while keeping him in place on This Week. And make no mistake: Taking him off of This Week would be a huge mistake right now. Yeah, Jake Tapper or Terry Moran could step in and do a fine job -- but with the ratings race tightening, now's not the time to lose the man at the helm.
And I'm not sure George Stephanopoulos wants to give up a position that's not just one of the rare sure things in the volatile world of modern network television, but also stands as a respect and legacy-builder.
So what to do with Good Morning America?
Honestly, it's hard to imagine the descendant of a powerful political family being an underdog, but in this case he kind of is: Give the gig to Chris Cuomo.
The guy's a rock-solid news reader and interviewer and he's already a well-liked presence on GMA. Far too often in the business of TV news, the folks in the Elysian world of upper-management go looking for a magic bullet when it comes time to replace a famous face on-air. They look for new blood to inject into the system, figuring it'll bring in new viewers. I'm just not sure that's what they'll get with Stephanopoulos. Choosing Cuomo, though, may be exactly the right move given the current cultural and economic climate. Once again, there are few in this country who could feel honest-to-God kinship with the son of Mario Cuomo, but there are quite a few people who understand what it's like to go to work every day and yet get shafted when the time comes for a potential promotion. Cuomo's talented, smart, funny, versatile -- a necessary quality to excel in morning news; and he's got the human touch, often coming off as a down-to-earth family man -- also a necessary quality to excel in the morning.
And again, giving him the reins of GMA will be seen as rewarding a guy who's always been a workhorse for you. Viewers will identify with that.
Stephanopoulos could do the job -- don't misunderstand. But as Bob Scheiffer commented in his direction recently, "George, I hope you know what you're gettin' into, son."
And political junkies should hope ABC realizes what they're getting into if they pull George Stephanopoulos off of This Week or try to have it all and stretch him and his reputation too thin.
Giving Cuomo the job represents a rare thing in the network TV news business: a win-win.