In Josh Elliott Grab, NBC Lands a Blow to ABC's ‘Good Morning America’

In Josh Elliott Grab, NBC Lands a Blow to ABC's 'Good Morning America'

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For NBC, the risk is well worth it

In the early morning news war raging between two dueling networks, NBC just landed a solid punch in ABC's kisser – pow!

Yanking Josh Elliott from ABC's “Good Morning America” line-up to lure him to NBC Sports – which insiders tell me caught the newly-minted ABC chief Ben Sherwood off guard – was a “Machiavellian” move, as one put it, aimed at disrupting GMA's ratings momentum over the once-dominant “Today.”

Sure, it was a little pricey. What did it cost to get Elliott? Four million? Five? But – please, people. This is Comcast's NBCU. They're not exactly hurting for cash. And the risk is well worth it.

Also read: Josh Elliott Exiting ABC's ‘Good Morning America’ for NBC Sports

The gamble is that Elliott will take refuge for a few years at NBC Sports, giving the network a back-up plan in case “Today” needs some help. If the “Today” show turns its fate around and Matt Lauer becomes popular again – then Lauer can sign a new contract next year and all is well.

But if the “Today” show continues to struggle and Lauer does not stay, Elliott can step in to the main job and the limelight. (Update: Another individual close to the negotiation denied that Sherwood was “surprised” by Elliott's decision to quit on Sunday night, but acknowledged that he believed it would be possible to reach a different outcome.)

Also read: The Most and Least Liked Morning TV Hosts — From Robin Roberts to Kathie Lee Gifford

No one really thinks that Elliott made the move because he wants to leave general news and report exclusively sports. He knows the score. “He's in the bullpen in the other stadium,” as one insider put it to me. “It's a preventative move.”

As others have reported, Elliott was deep in negotiations with Sherwood over renewing his contract on “Good Morning America.” But his relations were not good with either Robin Roberts or George Stephanopoulos, which left an opening to NBC. “Josh fell out of love with ABC,” as one wag put it. Update: The individual inside the negotiations said that Elliott was seeking an $8 million contract renewal that would rise to $13 million by its end, and demanding Stephanpoulos's job. Neither demand was realistic. The individual described Elliott as “mercurial” and unwilling to take a $5 million offer from ABC with no guarantee of the lead position on GMA. (Cue every network executive around Hollywood, together now: Sigh.Talent.)

See photos: 16 ‘GMA,’ ‘Today,’ and ‘CBS This Morning’ Personalities Ranked by Popularity

One reason to believe that Elliott's luring was not merely a matter of NBC Sports Group chief Mark Lazarus selling the newscaster on a smaller screen presence is the “Today” show's relative importance. Everyone at Comcast is painfully aware of “Today's” plunge in the ratings after 16 years of morning news show dominance. Indeed, it is the one major and enduring embarrassment at the network.

So how to fix it? Josh Elliott. The win over ABC was particularly sweet, coming on the heels of “Today's” Sam Champion dumping GMA for The Weather Channel.

Also read: Morning Show Ratings War: ‘Today,’ ‘GMA’ Split February Sweep Victory

So, hey there “Today” show team – you've got a chance. The brass has successfully disrupted GMA's ongoing ratings rise, and now it's up to you to turn that into viewers.

Can “Today” capitalize on the blow to their ABC rival? That will really depend on how good the show is. And without Champion or Elliott, it will show whether talent or programming chops has been driving GMA's success.

Is it irrevocable? “We're about to find out,” said one wag. “‘Today’ show has to be good enough to take advantage of this opening. If they can't do it now, they should blow the whole show up.”

  • Charles Freeman

    Maybe I'm missing something here, but did people really tune in GMA to see Josh Elliott? I think he just happened to be there when the Today streak ended; nothing more, nothing less.

    • Trish Chasity

      Missed the days when it was just Charlie < Diane and Robin. and I worked with them in the past in person. Great team back then.

  • ronbh

    Charles, you are so right. I once tuned in and wondered, “Never heard of the guy.” And I tuned to a later GMA show and, for me, he came across as the big man on campus. Having said that, I totally agree with the last line in this story: “The Today show has to be good enough to take advantage of this opening. If they can't do it now, they should blow the whole show up.”

  • Debsvoice

    Josh Elliott's departure from ABC to NBC did NOT “land a blow” to GMA! It was simply a matter of who'd pay him the most. Had he been more of an asset to GMA, ABC would have paid him more. He was not essential to the Team @GMA. When Sam left, he left because he wanted to concentrate on only the weather – he was not otherwise essential to the team – although he was an asset during his engthy tenure. Lauer is NOT going to “become popular again, so perhaps Elliott's “sports” position is simply a precurser to replacing Lauer, which will do nothing to raise the Today show's ratings. The Today show has seen better days.

    • Trish Chasity

      He had no guarantee to getting the top spot that George S. holds now.

      • Debsvoice

        Like you infer, he would never replace George S., nor will he replace Matt Lauer. He's excellent on a panel, but not as “The Host”. His main contributions are to children and sports. He'll be fine at NBC Sports.

  • name

    Coming in 2015…
    LIVE! from NBC News, This is “TODAY” with Josh Elliott and Tamron Hall
    Comcast is getting their new team lined-up.
    But the question will be, will they drop Al for Sam?

    • SigEpOne

      I swear you should bet money on this! This is exactly what I said.

    • Trish Chasity

      I wonder too! LOL God I wish I could run that show myself.

  • bhodiedog

    I get a little disgusted with all the phony things gma & today show try to do…in the morning I want news, not people all doing stunts to one up another show…It seems a little childish to me…I've been watching Charlie rose & Norah odonnell, they seem to act like adults!!

    • Trish Chasity

      I agree 100%

    • hotlala

      it isnt a news program. turn to cnn if you want boring recycled news. Duh.

  • Ugh

    The whole Comcast culture is so toxic. They can't built a good show so they will “blow up” the other guy? That's pathetic. Comcast is like a virus that infects the entire media landscape from its Kardashian plague to its evil monster corporate take overs to its destruction of the Tonight Show and on and on and on. This again shows no regard for viewers and for putting out a good product. They don't care that tv viewers enjoy GMA and that GMA has honestly earned their ratings. Comcast doesn't care about being a positive constructive force. If they can't make a good sand castle, then they are going to kick over the other sandcastles….

    • Ugh

      build

    • Trish Chasity

      Isn't that the case with most of the networks that broadcast these news morning shows? They seem alike too alike.

  • sachs33

    I dropped the Today show and have no intention of ever returning. Josh Elliott was not that great on GMA. His news presentation style is annoyingly exaggerated. I replaced the Today Show with CBS Morning news. I DVR both GMA and CBS and watch all 4 hours when I get home from work. Both GMA and CBS have outstanding teams.

  • Diane

    I wouldn't watch the Today Show if you paid me. When they threw Ann Curry under the bus that was it for me. GMA is a much more entertaining morning program. People move jobs all the time. Good luck to Josh Elliott. I wouldn't trust that group at NBC.

  • Ej@gmail

    I feel the same way BH. I can't take all the phony and trivial “news” that GMA and Today broadcast. I think watching these shows has become too brain numbing. Might be lowering our IQ's. I'm going to check out Charlie Rose and Norah O'Donnell.

  • idzzy

    I liked him but he wasn't the whole show. I don't like George .. I find him too dry! I do miss the Charles Gibson Dianne Sawyer team… I've always watched & love GMA. I can't stand the Tonight show