What are the main differences between GMA and the Today Show?
The competitive fervor between the two shows is heightened by the fact that the difference between No. 1 and No. 2 in the target adults 25-54 demographic is only about 124,000 — less than two football stadiums’ worth of people. Season to date as of July 20, “GMA” has continued to lead “Today” by a handy average of 653,000 viewers overall, according to Nielsen. “GMA” increased its lead in total viewers since September 2013 by 329,000, no small feat when TV viewers are dispersing to all kinds of new video opportunities. “Today” boosted its total audience by 334,000. CBS also has grown total viewership during the past two years, by more than 500,000 for “CBS This Morning” with its newsier makeover featuring anchors Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell.
On set, the two shows could not be more different. About a dozen crew members work in near silence on “Today,” befitting, perhaps, its recent decision to emphasize news coverage after dabbling to ill effect on lurid crime headlines and more frivolous fare. At “GMA,” twice as many people — stylists, carpenters and others — roam the room, and feel free to speak even while the broadcast is live. Robach, who once anchored the weekend edition of “Today,” says she experienced “culture shock” when she arrived at “GMA,” where the anchors may laugh at something said off camera or during a commercial break, then talk about it with the audience. “What you see is what you get,” Roberts says. “It’s not like the camera comes on and we are one way, and then it goes away and we are another way.”
…The work is grueling. As I discover over four visits to the shows, the human brain does not naturally flicker to life at 4 a.m., which is when the workday starts for most morning-TV folks. Some of the anchors are up even earlier: Stephanopoulos says he rises at 2:30 a.m. each day so he can meditate and take in breaking headlines before he goes on air. When the shows are over, the anchors’ day just starts. There are interviews to book, meetings to attend. Before they go to sleep, many of the staffers prep for the next day by reading the latest on breaking stories. Roberts is surprised by people who think her workday ends when “GMA” signs off at 9. Guthrie’s advice: Don’t slow down. Once you take a break, she tells me, your body wants more rest.
NBC is banking on the combination of a re-signed Lauer and his chemistry with Guthrie — and their skill in interviewing everyone from Pippa Middleton to John Kerry to Mick Jagger — to get the show back to top-dog status. ABC, meanwhile, has added to “GMA’s” ranks genial former NFL star Michael Strahan, who co-anchors the syndicated “Live With Kelly and Michael.”
The network is also countering the perception that “GMA” leans toward the silly and the salacious, naming one of its standard-bearers, Stephanopoulos, chief anchor of ABC News, rather than David Muir, who is inheriting the network’s evening newscast from Diane Sawyer. That means the one-time White House adviser is the face ABC viewers see nearly every time a crisis breaks out around the world, even as he rises early every day for “GMA.”
Lauer and Guthrie may stand at “Today’s” center, but the spotlight these days is on the broader crew. Morales and meteorologist Al Roker sit alongside the two co-hosts; Carson Daly, the ubiquitous personality brought onboard to weave social-media elements into the program, fills in just as much as anyone else; and Willie Geist and Tamron Hall, featured in the show’s 9 a.m. hour, appear regularly during its start.
The widened focus comes as the result of an in-process overhaul that sounds like something Procter & Gamble might do when sales decline for a detergent or toothpaste. NBC determined “Today” lost just 10% of its viewers to “GMA,” with the rest scattering across TV, Turness recounts. To get them back, the network interviewed hundreds of viewers, loyal and lapsed, and asked what it was that they wanted in the morning. The answer was, first and foremost, “substance.” Injecting more of that — and giving viewers a broader team to maintain their interest — Turness determined, “would place us back in the heartland of morning TV.”
Lauer decided to sign up for another term — he declined to comment on whether it would last two years or more — because of the show’s reboot. Keeping the veteran presence onboard the show was imperative, Turness says. “If he left, we would be in a very different place” she adds. “He is key to the future.”
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