Will the morning show bring one or both back or move on?
As “GMA3” heads into its third week without co-anchors Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes, questions swirl about their future and that of the show. Will they be fired? Will ABC bring the scandal-ridden co-hosts back after the revelation of their romantic relationship while both are still married to others? Have the reports of Holmes’ previous two affairs with “GMA” colleagues made him too toxic for a Disney-owned company?
TV veterans say that ABC executives have no easy answers in a situation like this. “Are you going to tell them to break up? Or are you saying they can come back on the air together?” former ABC Daytime exec Brian Frons told TheWrap. “Or do you separate them and have them sit in the corner for a year while they burn off their contracts? It’s just a mess.”
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Robach has been the visible face of “GMA3” since March 2020, when it became a COVID-focused news hour co-hosted by Dr. Jennifer Ashton. Holmes was added as co-host that September as the title changed to “GMA3: What You Need to Know.” But that all unraveled with revelation of the real-life romance between Robach and Holmes — as both quietly separated from their respective spouses and deleted their Instagram accounts. (Neither has commented on the situation.)
Since suspending the couple from “GMA3,” the network has rotated in guest co-hosts, first Stephanie Ramos and Gio Benitez, and then DeMarco Morgan and Rhiannon Ally — with early indications that ratings are continuing at pre-scandal levels (more on that later). Here’s a rundown of what might happen next.
How long will Holmes and Robach be off the air?
That’s an open question. In a Dec. 12 memo to staffers, ABC News President Kim Godwin said the two will stay off the air while executives conduct an “internal review,” CNN reported.
Even in their absence, Robach and Holmes are still mentioned in the intro to the show, which airs weekdays at 1 p.m. ET. Last week, Morgan and Ally made a point to say they were “filling in” for the scandal-ridden regular hosts.
And, as of press time, Robach and Holmes are still featured on GMA3’s official Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, as well the show’s official site.
The show is expected to use guest hosts through the end of 2022 — even Ashton shared on air and on Instagram that Dec. 16 would be her last day of the year before taking time off for the holidays. But ABC representatives have no comment on Robach or Holmes’s fate at the network or plans for “GMA3” in the new year.
Does ABC News have cause to fire them?
Although Godwin initially said “the relationship is not a violation of company policy,” that doesn’t rule out other possible contract violations that might allow the network to jettison Robach and/or Holmes.
ABC’s morals clause, which has been cited in previous terminations and also quoted by The Sun and Puck, forbids anything that brings “public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or which might tend to reflect unfavorably” on the network. ABC News didn’t confirm the specific language to TheWrap.
ABC parent company Disney historically has been more averse to scandals that might tarnish its family-friendly reputation. “Disney needs to step in and take action here. We’re a family-friendly network and these two are not displaying family values or Disney’s values,” an unnamed ABC News insider told the Daily Mail earlier this month.
A “just cause” firing could also come from a different kind of violation of their contact. An insider told TMZ earlier this month that violations could include “using company resources, like vehicles or drivers, to meet romantically… or pressuring staffers to keep the relationship on the DL.”
In addition, either host could be sacked “without cause” though that would likely require ABC to pay out their current contracts.
“The bottom line is [ABC News] can do whatever they want,” Amory McAndrew, a partner at Hoguet Newman Regal & Kenney LLP in New York, recently told Indiewire. “They’re just probably going to have to pay for it,” he said referring to a previously agreed-to payout that would be triggered by a “without cause” termination. “They could say: ‘You didn’t violate a policy, but we just want you out of here.'”
Has ABC ever fired anyone for a morals clause violation before?
In 2020, ABC senior vice president Barbara Fedida left the company after an internal review confirmed that she had made “unacceptable racially insensitive comments” about “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts and “The View” co-host Sunny Hostin and “on occasion, used crass and inappropriate language,” Peter Rice, chairman of Walt Disney Television wrote in a memo shared with staffers.
When “All My Children” soap star Michael Nader was fired from the ABC soap “All My Children” after being arrested for selling cocaine in 2001, ABC News specifically cited that he had “breached the morals clause of his contract,” according to court documents.
And other news executives and on-air stars have been fired in recent years, including morning hosts Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose following accusations of sexual misconduct at NBC and CBS, respectively. In addition, CNN boss Jeff Zucker was forced to resign earlier this year after failing to disclose a consensual romantic relationship with one of his top lieutenants.
Could they really be fired for having an affair in 2022?
Many industry observers are stumped by the network’s reaction to the public disclosure of Robach and Holmes’ affair.
Dr. Sheri Meyers, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “Chatting or Cheating,” said what’s happening with Holmes and Robach is really their business. “It was private, but this is now a public forum for everyone to speak about. It’s almost like we’re all involved, and we’re all judging,” she said. “Yes, it’s prevalent, and we all have [a certain] feeling about cheating. If they were just two single people who fell in love in the workplace, [that would be a] whole different story. When you’re cheating on your partner, you’re cheating on your family — it’s different.”
The fact that they anchor a morning show, which often focuses on the anchors’ families and personal lives, makes the situation that much trickier, according to Pallavi Kumar, a crisis public relations expert and a lecturer at the American University School of Communication. “People equate morning show hosts as their family, so they are under more scrutiny than most news anchors,” she told TheWrap.
And many feel that the network is unlikely to dole out different punishments for Holmes, who’s Black, and Robach, who’s white — regardless of reports about Holmes’ past behavior with other network staffers. “You have an African-American man and you have a woman, and both are protected classes,” Frons noted.
“It’s hard from the outside to understand why this would be so disturbing to the news division,” Frons said. “It’s not like they lied on air about stories about where they were,” he said, referring to NBC News Brian Williams’s six-month suspension in 2015 after a story he told about surviving a rocket attack in Iraq was proven to be false. “The consensus among my former peers has been, ‘Why did they take them off the air? That seems like a good ratings opportunity,'” he said.
Frons suspects that the network may be buying some time to see how the scandal plays out, noting that Whoopi Goldberg returned to “The View” earlier this year after a two-week suspension when she came under fire for saying the Holocaust was “not about race.”
“Maybe [ABC] is not going to say anything and just hope it blows over like the Whoopi Goldberg thing,” he said. When Goldberg was suspended, though, there was no question that she was coming back, or how long she’d be away.
How will the ratings for ‘GMA3’ factor into the decision?
The third hour of “Good Morning America” has always been the lowest-rated “GMA” segment since it was launched in 2018. The show peaked in its current incarnation in 2020, when it averaged 1.9 million viewers, up from 1.5 million the year before. In 2021, the average was back down to pre-pandemic levels with 1.5 million, according to Nielsen.
Despite the slippage, “GMA3” has consistently beaten rivals “NBC News Daily” and CBS’ “The Talk” and leads in total viewers. For the week of Nov. 28, the show averaged 1.68 million viewers. Viewership shot up to 1.8 million on Thursday, Dec. 1, the day after the Daily Mail blew the whistle on their romance — the two were benched the following Monday.
For the first full week without Robach and Holmes, viewership eased back to an average of 1.65 million — an early, tentative sign that the show may continue to perform without its tabloid-fodder co-hosts.
“It’s all about the ratings,” Kumar said, who predicted that the now IRL couple will return sometime in the new year. “If it is a highly rated show, which it is, the network will find a way to ‘forgive’ them and put them back on the air.”