Weekend ‘GMA’ Will Keep Edge

Aug 30, 2004  •  Post A Comment

As executive producer of the “Good Morning America” Saturday and Sunday editions launching Sept. 4, John Green is taking many of his cues from research indicating Americans lighten up a little-but do not kick back-on weekends.

That is why the weekend show will have as much substance as the daily programs, said Mr. Green, who spent some 10 years with weekday “GMA,” where he was known as the “master of arms in the control room.” “It is not going to be `GMA Lite,”‘ Mr. Green said. “We’re trying to be extremely ambitious.”

He wants to build on the mandate of the mother show and avoid the problems that proved fatal to an attempt to expand “GMA” to Sundays in the late 1990s. Each hour-long show will be done live in New York twice each weekend day, at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., the latter to provide updated news to affiliates in Western states. In addition, affiliates have the option to tape for broadcast later in the day.

As with the weekday program, the show will offer topical news and features. One segment on the first show is with tennis star Andy Roddick, who presumably still will be in the game at the U.S. Open. Mr. Green is also “working on a big political booking” to attract attention. “I really do want to make a big splash on the first weekend,” he said.

In addition, several weekend-only features make their debut:

  • “The News You Missed,” a personal essay written by co-anchor Bill Weir, who moved his wife, baby and dog from Los Angeles. He was previously a sports reporter at KABC-TV, Los Angeles, where he was known for his tongue-in-cheek humor. Now he has turned his professional odyssey into a short series that will close the Saturday show.
  • The “Saturday Shopper,” a flexible, informational segment.
  • “The Weekend Window To …,” which, with help from affiliates throughout the country, will give viewers a look at a variety of vistas as well as information about how and when to get there. First up: a visit to Crisfield, Md., for the Crab Derby and Fair. While Mr. Green expects this will draw comparisons to the signature nature-and-natural-sound sequences on “CBS Sunday Morning,” he said, “I think of it as the next generation of travel segment.” It will feature everything from the new Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati to a rodeo.
  • “Out of the Fishbowl,” in which Mr. Weir, co-host Kate Snow, news reader Ron Claiborne and weather-feature correspondent Marysol Castro will kick around topics, submitted by viewers and producers, with no preparation. “It will let the viewers really see who our team is,” Mr. Green said.
  • “The Political Hot Potato,” which will allow George Stephanopoulos to promote what is coming up on “This Week” each Sunday and brief viewers on the big issue of the day.

    Mr. Green has been putting his on- and off-air crews through full dress rehearsals for two weeks. “I’m a real stickler for no technical errors on the air,” said the executive producer.

    The weekend shows replace children’s programs on Saturday and local station time on Sunday. They are expected to be seen in more than 80 percent of the country at launch, despite the lack of clearance by at least two powerful station groups pending resolution of a variety of other issues. Those include long-term affiliation agreements and some previous programming commitments by the stations.

    “We hope the program is a success, and we look forward to a favorable resolution so we can participate in that success,” said Bruce Baker, executive VP of Cox Television, which is among the many groups renegotiating affiliation agreements. Cox has three ABC affiliates that have yet to clear “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

    “We are having ongoing discussions [about weekend `GMA’ clearance] now,” said Emerson Coleman, programming VP for Hearst-Argyle Television, which owns 12 ABC affiliates and manages a 13th. Mr. Coleman said there is no link between the clearance of weekend “GMA” and affiliation agreement talks.

    All six Scripps-owned ABC affiliates are clearing weekend “GMA.”

    So are both of the ABC affiliates owned by Post-Newsweek Stations. “We’ve urged the network to do it for some years,” said group President Alan Frank, who believes weekend “GMA” will be good for both the network and the local stations.

    ABC declined to comment on affiliate contracts, but in a statement John Rouse, ABC senior VP of affiliate relations, said: “From the beginning of our discussions regarding the extension of `GMA’ to Saturday and Sunday, we have had strong encouragement and support from the affiliate body. The program fits well with our affiliates’ and owned stations’ existing weekend morning news programs and will assist others in creating a weekend morning news presence. `GMA’ weekend will also increase awareness for our strong Monday-through-Friday-morning franchise and our ability to provide strong 24/7 breaking news coverage. Although some affiliates are not able to accommodate the clearance due to previous commitments, the vast majority of affiliates will clear `GMA’ weekend beginning with the Sept. 4 launch.”