Stephanopoulos says 'Good Morning America' will be a good fit

ABC's new daytime guy: George Stephanopoulos.
ABC's new daytime guy: George Stephanopoulos. (Ida Mae Astute/abc)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

As he wrestled with whether to surrender his Sunday morning franchise and accept ABC's offer to co-host "Good Morning America," George Stephanopoulos kept coming back to one central fact.

"Ali and I and the girls love Washington," he said, recalling "dozens" of conversations with his wife, comic actress Alexandra Wentworth, about moving to New York. "That's what made it so difficult. . . . To have to leave Washington and eventually give up 'This Week' was terribly hard for me."

As for whether the sharp-edged analyst will be comfortable in the easygoing morning-show atmosphere, he said: "I'm going to feel my way through it. I'm sure I'll make mistakes sometimes."

Determined to keep his hand in his former profession, Stephanopoulos, 48, persuaded the network to give him another role that will showcase him on all ABC broadcasts: chief political correspondent. "That's what I know. That's what I love," he said.

ABC's announcement Thursday that Stephanopoulos will replace Diane Sawyer, who on Friday is ending her decade-long morning reign to anchor the network's "World News," amounts to a major gamble. But his new partner on "GMA," Robin Roberts, pronounced herself pleased.

"Yeah, he worked in the White House, he's a political guy, we all know that," she said. "But we all were not understanding that he is multidimensional. He's married to Ali Wentworth, my gosh. The guy has to have a sense of humor."

While much of the discussion has focused on whether "GMA" would be reshaped to suit Stephanopoulos, network executives say they were already in the process of adding newsier segments at the expense of lighter fare.

"This was not a matter of George trying to extract from me a commitment to do that," said ABC News President David Westin. Picking Stephanopoulos "was an advantage for me. It would be a statement to our audience that this is a different program. . . . I'm not saying we're never going to do cooking on the program. It's a matter of how much cooking, and how we do it."

Senior Executive Producer Jim Murphy added, "We're not going to blow up the morning television format. We'll still do parenting stuff and medical stories and, yes, once in a while we'll talk about diets. We'll do a little less of the really fluffy stuff -- what I call trimming the fat."

The other leading contender, Chris Cuomo, has been named a "20/20" co-anchor, chief legal correspondent and roving reporter, which he told viewers is a "dream job."

Westin made the offer two weeks ago, and Stephanopoulos accepted by e-mail last weekend. "He is very careful, very thorough," Westin said. "He wanted to make sure he thought this through."

Stephanopoulos will continue hosting Washington-based "This Week" for a few weeks while ABC picks a successor, with such names as White House correspondent Jake Tapper and "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran being bandied about. Stephanopoulos originally wanted to hang on to both programs but came to realize that was untenable.

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