ABC News’ Good Morning America has signed Lara Spencer to a new contract, leaving Josh Elliott the lone holdout among GMA cast members whose contracts are coming up now, as the morning infotainment show gets buffeted by competitor NBC. That NBC campaign reportedly includes talk with Elliott — who came to GMA from ABC parent Disney’s ESPN — about working for NBC in both news and sports, a sort of next-generation Bob Costas. Similarly, NBC poached GMA weatherman Sam Champion late last year; Champion, who had been with GMA since 2006, left to join NBCUniversal’s The Weather Channel as host of its new morning flagship show, and to become the channel’s managing editor.
Elliott, whose paycheck currently is in the $1.2 million range, is said to be seeking north of $8 million a year — a more than 500% pay hike. According to one industry insider, with Robin Roberts re-signed and now Spencer (George Stephanopoulos’s contract runs through the end of 2014, so he’s not part of this flurry), ABC News may have put a time ultimatum on the table with Elliott, though others say no. Regardless, there’s not much time left what with Elliott having less than four weeks left on his current deal.
So far, the blow-by-blow media coverage of the near-simultaneous contract talks with four of GMA’s five pieces of on-air talent, and reports of jealousy over Robert’s $14 million-ish deal has not dinged GMA’s one-big-happy-family image to a degree that impacts viewing, in the way similar media reports of internecine disharmony did to Today, reaching a fevered pitch around the time of the cringe-inducing denouement of Operation Bambi – aka the ouster of a weepy Ann Curry – in June 2012:
Even after Champion’s departure, for instance, GMA last week delivered its biggest overall audience since Nielsen electronic records began and its best news-demo delivery in eight years. Still it’s considered no coincidence that GMA added Elliott and Spencer to the lineup about a year before GMA eclipsed Today in the ratings. This puts Elliott in a good position, though he and ABC News are said to still be far apart on price, with the network offering about half his asking price — quite a spread. (For comparison sake, GMA’s George Stephanopoulos reportedly is paid about $6 million a year; his contract runs through this calendar year.)
But re-signing Elliott might not be the end of GMA’s immediate concerns. Poaching members of the team credited with ending Today‘s 16-year ratings winning streak is only one of the ways in which NBC is going after its rival as it tries to return to its morning infotainment show to the top spot. Late last year, NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert told Deadline that the move of Tonight show back to New York with new host Jimmy Fallon was part of a company-wide plan to streamline booking of big “gets” – not only for late-night properties Tonight, Late Night and Saturday Night Live, which would now all be under the watch of Lorne Michaels, but also for Today, as well as Meredith Vieira’s upcoming syndicated talker. All those shows would not be housed under the 30 Rock roof, and enjoy the benefits of a streamlined, centralized booking operation.
GMA and Today both have music concert series in late spring and summer, and booking for the two series is fierce. This concert season will be the first for Today under NBCU’s new “symphony” booking campaign, which could include offers of additional appearances across Tonight, Late Night and/or SNL. GMA, meanwhile, cannot so nimbly offer same, what with ABC’s late-night franchise Jimmy Kimmel Live being based in Los Angeles, as Deadline reported back in December — and Billboard discovered yesterday.