10.09.12

‘Good Morning America’ vs. ‘Today’: Why I’ve Switched

As a broadcast journalist himself, Itay Hod loved the ‘Today’ show. But like so many viewers, he switched to ‘Good Morning America.’

After watching the Today show for more than 18 years, I was finally forced to make the switch. Sorry NBC, it’s not me, it’s you. Your show is boring. And not just any boring … C-SPAN boring. I’ve seen more life in a cemetery.

Meanwhile, ABC’s Good Morning America has gone from the most uncomfortable program on morning TV to a fun, energetic, and yes—cool show. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let me start by saying I’ve been a Today show fanatic since I was a college student. I loved Katie Couric and Matt Lauer’s rapport, their funny banter, and the ease with which they were able to pivot from Bibi to low-calorie summer beverages.

Who can forget the interview Katie did with President George H.W. Bush in October 1992? She was getting a live tour of the White House from Barbara Bush when the president stopped by for an impromptu hello.

His aides thought it would be a cute moment for him, since he was struggling in his reelection campaign against a popular young governor from Arkansas. Without missing a beat, Katie grilled him for 20 minutes on the upcoming election and the Iran-contra affair, sending the commander in chief running away like his tail was on fire.

Even George Stephanopoulos has become less rigid.

I never understood why anyone bothered watching anything else. I checked out GMA from time to time, just to see if I was missing anything. I wasn’t. The anchors were always stiff, the reporters boring.

After Couric left, Meredith Vieira seemed like the perfect replacement—quirky and fun, and she could hold her own. And it seemed like Lauer was finally able to show his personality. It was different, but just as good.

Video screenshot

'Ann Curry announces her departure from 'Today.’’

We all know what happened after Meredith left. The Ann Curry disaster, the poorly handled attempt to fix that disaster, and now they’ve given the job to Savannah Guthrie (a fine correspondent but come on!). The ratings for Today fell throughout. And I was finally done too.

Meanwhile, GMA found its mojo. Fun personalities, fast-paced stories, and great energy between anchors. The crushing blow to Today came in the form of ESPN's Josh Elliott and The Insider’s Lara Spencer. The two have managed to do what so many executives at ABC have tried unsuccessfully for so many years: lighten up the mood on the set.

Even George Stephanopoulos has become less rigid.

Video screenshot

It’s like a crazy magic trick. The chat is fun, and the tosses back and forth are no longer cringe-inducing. These people look like they actually like each other. Even the absence of co-anchor Robin Roberts, currently recuperating from a bone-marrow transplant, hasn't slowed GMA down. The network has been busy booking mega-celebrities—Oprah, the entire cast of Modern Family, Stephen Colbert, and more recently, Ann Romney—all in an effort to keep the ball rolling.

The Today show's executive producer, Jim Bell, said he believes the reason GMA is winning is because they’re “doing something else,” insinuating GMA is going for the more tabloid-driven stories. As if Today doesn’t revel in tawdry crimes and celebrity news. I suspect the ratings hemorrhage has more to do with Lauer and Al Roker’s passive-aggressive on-air tiffs that are neither charming nor fun to watch. I mean, I’m no TV elitist—I’d watch the Real Housewives of Istanbul if it were entertaining—but sadly, the Today show is no Real Housewives … it’s not even Gallery Girls.

No, the reason why people are moving to ABC is simple: their show is better. After a 17-year losing streak against TodayGMA has finally been able to break the code. They're no longer trying to be, they just are. Check out segments like Elliott’s Play of the Day, and Spencer’s Pop News Heat Index if you want to see what I mean.

And viewers are noticing.

I suspect many of them did what I did. In a moment of utter boredom, they reached for the remote to see what was going on over “at the other network”—only to discover that’s where the party’s at.

I've been in broadcast journalism for more than 15 years. I was Brian Williams’s first intern. He wrote my letter of recommendation to Columbia University's J-School. I guess I was just one of those I-prefer-NBC-News kinda guys. Not anymore.