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Working for the Weekend

It’s 9:00 on a recent Sunday morning, and John Green has already been up since 2:30 a.m. and at work since 4. While much of New York City hasn’t even attempted to come out of its slumber, Green, executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America: Weekend Edition, is finishing up his second live TV broadcast in as many days. And his work day isn’t quite over yet.

As others in the control room of the show’s Times Square studio don overcoats and chat about next week’s shows or their afternoon plans, Green flips switch after switch on the console, individually thanking all who worked on the show: “Thank you, graphics. Nice work. Good job, everybody.”

The way his colleagues tell it, that’s typical Green: a leader who motivates his staff to match his own drive and dedication through simple decency. Typically allowing himself just one day off a week, Green credits his capacity for hard work with sustaining him through his 15 years in the TV business.

“My attitude’s always been that you work the sixth and seventh day,” he says. “You put in the extra time—the hours, the days—and you’ll succeed.”

From Marketing to News

Green’s path to morning TV began with an internship at WHDH Boston, a CBS affiliate, while he was pursuing his master’s degree in mass communications at Boston University.

After taking notice of the on-air promotions Green wrote, the station’s news director suggested he take a news-writing test—crafting a six-story newscast in 15 minutes. Green aced it, landing a freelance news-writing gig at the station.

He moved on to WCVB Boston, an ABC affiliate, where he produced a bilingual public-affairs show in Spanish and English. (Already fluent in Spanish and French and conversant in Italian, Green taught himself Russian through listening to Berlitz tapes at the gym.)

A longtime fan of GMA, Green recalls watching hosts David Hartman and Joan Lunden when he was growing up in St. Louis in the early 1980s. While working at WCVB, he wrote letters every two months requesting an interview. His persistence paid off when GMA invited him to New York.

“He asked all the right questions, and you could tell he was highly motivated,” says ABC Executive Director of Daytime Programming Randy Barone, who hired Green and mentored him at the network. “I knew in the back of my mind that this was someone who would rise to do great things, and he didn’t prove me wrong.”

In New York, Green, known by friends for his wit, rented an apartment so small he could “sit on the toilet and open the refrigerator at the same time,” and relished any chance to travel for work.

Over the next seven years, he worked as a field producer covering such far-flung stories as the O.J. Simpson trial, the investigation of Princess Diana’s death, and the collapse of the Russian economy.

Despite an admittedly sparse background in business, Green stepped up to become lead producer for GMA’s Money unit and was later tapped to be a senior producer in 2001—a job that, at first, involved preparing a week’s worth of GMA segments at a time.

“A lot of the opportunities I’ve had,” he says, “have been because I’ve been at a place where, if you raise your hand and speak up, people notice it and give you the opportunities you deserve.”

Working with then-GMA team Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson, whom he calls the “quintessential journalists,” Green produced breaking news and features.

He proved particularly adept with specials and road shows, producing “Baby, Oh Baby,” the first live broadcasts of childbirths from hospitals around the U.S., as well as the first live broadcast of an entire network morning show produced on a moving ship (in this case, it was circumnavigating Manhattan).

When ABC News decided to resurrect a weekend version of GMA in the spring of 2004 (a previous incarnation ran Sundays from 1993 to 1998), Green submitted a proposal for staffing, hiring and budgeting, and got the job.

Sitting in the office he shares with the show’s senior broadcast producer and its writer, Green outlines his plans for the Saturday and Sunday editions of GMA.

“Saturday’s kind of an extension of the week,” he says. “People have errands, and it’s about consumerism, so we have a healthy dose of hard news you can use.”

Sunday, meanwhile, is “the one day people get to recline in bed,” he continues, and the show typically closes with sweeping shots of idyllic locations. Green says, “I want it to be artful, aesthetically pleasing, relaxing.”

Closing the Weekend Gap

Although the hour-long show still places second to NBC’s Today on Saturday and third to CBS’ Sunday Morning and NBC on Sunday, GMA has cut the gap, by about 18% and 16% respectively, within just a year. Year-to-year, the show’s audience grew both days while the other networks were flat or down.

That success has helped Green move beyond an unfortunate episode last spring, when negative comments about President Bush and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that he had e-mailed surfaced online.

After taking a month off, at the network’s request, Green returned to the show. He now calls the ordeal a “learning experience,” from which he says he’s rebounded stronger than before.

That’s to the benefit of longtime colleagues. ABC News correspondent Juju Chang, who worked with Green when he was a field producer and fills in as a weekend GMA anchor, praises his leadership style.

“He doesn’t just give feedback; he tells you why something works or doesn’t,” she says. “It’s been nice to see him grow up and mentor other people.”

In a throwback to his days in marketing, Green is now taking the show’s anchors on tours of affiliates and encouraging them to make public appearances.

“My goal is to get as many Americans to know we’re on the air as possible,” he says, noting his team’s hard work. “I’m confident that, if they turn on the television and know our show, they’ll be hooked seven days a week.”