Just as NBC is reportedly making plans to move Ann Curry off the Today show anchor desk, ABC is preparing to up the exposure of two of its Good Morning America hosts.
On July 9, ABC will premiere Good Afternoon America, a one-hour extension hosted by GMA’s Josh Elliott and Lara Spencer that will air at 2 p.m. on ABC stations for a nine-week test. The move to expand the Good Morning America brand to the afternoon comes at a critical time, as the morning program has gained momentum in recent months after breaking the 16-year weekly winning streak of NBC’s newly vulnerable Today show.
“The hope is that we are going to take some of the DNA of Good Morning America, expand on it and really be able to delve into topics deeper than we can on GMA, when we’re trying to fill everyone in on the news,” says Ethan Nelson, Good Afternoon America executive producer.
Topics covered will be lifestyle-focused, with segments on pop culture and “news you can use” on health issues or unexpected ways to save money. The show will be filmed at ABC’s Times Square Studios, with the opportunity for celebrity guests and musical performances.
The plan is to air Good Afternoon America live for the first few weeks, after which the show may switch to daily tapings following GMA. Though the same stories could be covered on both GMA and Good Afternoon America, Nelson says the two shows won’t be copycats.
“If it’s a story that has great relevance and great interest, then we’ll extend the conversation,” he says. “But there will also be lots of fresh content on our program as well.”
The expansion to the afternoon was made possible when ABC canceled The Revolution in April, which gave the network a hole to fill in its summer schedule. Good Afternoon America will run through Sept. 7, just before the launch of Katie Couric’s new talk show.
“I think it makes a lot of sense to take the brand and exploit it,” says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at Katz Television Group. “The only thing that surprised me is that it’s taken them so long, and that they’re really only doing it as a summer test.”
While presumably ABC would want to extend Good Afternoon America’s run in success, come fall, ABC Daytime’s three slots will be filled by The View, The Chew and General Hospital. Still, giving Good Afternoon America a test run creates a potential player that could be subbed into the schedule at a later date—should one of the other shows fail—or on a seasonal basis.
It also in part helps lay the groundwork for an eventual succession at GMA, with the spinoff giving Elliott and Spencer, who joined GMA in March 2011, a chance to carry an hour on their own. If George Stephanopoulos tires of pulling double duty on GMA and This Week, as some expect he will, Good Afternoon America acts as a trial run for a potentially larger role for the duo down the road.
“In essence, it’s a dry run for the future,” Carroll says. “It’s a way of getting a sense of what Josh and Lara would be as anchors of Good Morning America.”
In the shorter term, the benefit is another promotional platform for the ascendant GMA. After seesawing in the ratings for months, Today recently won three weeks in a row, its first multi-week streak since GMA broke its record in April. In addition to Elliott and Spencer’s daily presence, Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts and Sam Champion will appear occasionally on Good Afternoon America, exposing a new audience to the on-air team.
“We would love to bring people back and forth,” Nelson says. “As it reflects back on [the ratings of] Good Morning America, sure, that would be a great thing to happen as well.”
And while the extra hour will give GMA more exposure for its hosts (as Today already does with its third and fourth hours), don’t expect Elliott and Spencer to be fueling their segments with Chardonnay like their cross-town rivals.
“I don’t think so, no,” Nelson says with a laugh when asked if there will be drinking on the show. “[Maybe] some sort of mock-tail.”
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