Departing Good Morning America news anchor Josh Elliott says he has not personally had any discussions about working on NBC’s Today, that he hopes co-anchor Matt Lauer will still be at Today “when I step away from this gig 30 years down the road,” and that he loves ABC News chief Ben Sherwood deeply and passionately for making him news anchor at GMA. Elliott was on the phone with reporters to discuss this week’s worst kept TV industry secret — Elliott has jumped ship, abandoning GMA to join NBC Sports Group.
NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus said Elliott would perform “a mix” of reporting and anchoring, including a presence in the division’s coverage of the Kentucky Derby, NFL football, the Super Bowl and the Winter and Summer Olympics, to which NBC has broadcast rights through 2020. “One of the beauties of this budding and new relationship,” Lazarus said, is that Elliott fits in well with the existing team, adding, “we’ve still got plenty of time to sort out” details of his role.
Elliott was asked loads of questions about his departure from GMA; he “denied categorically” press reports about the ensemble cast’s jealousy over Robin Roberts’ lucrative contract, insisting he loved them all and wished them the best. “I owe everything to the folks at Disney” he said. “They’re the ones who put me on the air nine years ago.’ I have nothing but gratitude for them” he said speaking “to my very deep and abiding important relationship I have with [ABC News chief] Ben Sherwood.”
ABC, he said, “also put a generous and wonderful offer on the table,” as his contract is set to expire in a few weeks, Elliott said. But he went with the opportunity that was “best for me at this moment in time.” He denied suggestions NBC came after him to break up the Good Morning America team which, during his tenure on that show overtook Today show in the ratings. “This wasn’t one company doing something to another, wasn’t somebody looking to upset an apple cart…I was the subject of this sentence,” Elliott insisted. “I’m so happy to have made the choice I made — I cannot believe I would be part of an Olympics broadcast! I feel like the luckiest man in television today and that is all because of what was for me a wondrous decade at Disney, and a glorious three years at ABC news and GMA.” His GMA replacement Amy Robach is “half pirate, half trucker” and “about as tough as they come,” and one of his favorite people, he said.
On the call, when he began to discuss opportunities down the road to become involved with Today show, once his non-compete expires in six months, saying, “The only discussions as related to news were ways to provide sports content for them across all of their shows” and adding, “I hope I have to chance to tell stories I get to tell to the most number of people and thankfully I’m at a place that has a lot of different ways to do that” Lazarus cut him off, jumping in to say, “Our mission is to get Josh integrated into NBC Sports,” and that ”we’ve got a great group of people here but with Josh we get better.”
ABC had pre-empted this morning’s NBC Sports announcement when Sherwood issued a memo to staffers over the weekend, announcing Amy Robach was replacing Elliott as news anchor on ABC’s morning infotainment program. So the first official word of Elliott’s new gig went like this:
At the same time, Josh Elliott let us know today that he is going to NBC Sports.
As many of you know, we have been negotiating with Josh these past several months. In good faith, we worked hard to close a significant gap between our generous offer and his expectations. In the end, Josh felt he deserved a different deal and so he chose a new path.
I want to thank Josh for his many contributions to GMA and ABC News. Later in the week, we will bid him farewell.
Asked about Sherwood’s memo, Elliott responded “we have to accept things we cannot change,” adding, “Ben knows how I feel about him and l like to think I know how Ben feels about me. We were partners in a crazy thing — Ben was crazy to give me a shot. He took a huge gamble, rolled too many dice. We could not have believed it would work out way it did,” adding at one point, “I will forever love him deeply and passionately for it.”
If Sherwood wrote in his memo about his move to NBC Sports in “anything other than a laudatory tone… it probably derives from the intensely personal nature of it all” he said. Of Sherwood, he continued to say, “I will forever love him deeply and passionately for it.”
First official word out of NBC about Elliott’s hire came Monday morning in the form of a tweet from Today show weatherman Al Roker, congratulating him for his “conscious uncoupling” from GMA/ABC. And, NBCU’s The Weather Channel that morning featured a little bit by Sam Champion — himself previously poached from GMA by NBCU — in which he called Elliott’s hire “a great opportunity for Josh’s heart,” adding, “I know that fans of GMA are not loving it.”
Elliott left GMA after long, intense negotiations with ABC News in which he reportedly sought to increase his $1.2 million annual salary to something approaching $10 mil. NBC Sports is paying him about $4 mil a year, according to sources though it has been reported he took a “pay cut” to join NBC Sports — because ABC was willing to pony up $5 mil to keep him. Yes, that’s TV industry math.
Late last month, when Good Morning America signed Lara Spencer to a new contract, it left Elliott the lone holdout among GMA cast members whose contracts were coming up now, as the morning infotainment show got buffeted by competitor NBC. NBC wanted Elliott — who came to GMA from ABC parent Disney’s ESPN — to work both in news and sports, a sort of next-generation Bob Costas.
ABC News already made news that blunted somewhat Elliott’s big moment this morning, when word got out that Michael Strahan, one half of Live! With Kelly & Michael, also soon would be seen regularly on Good Morning America. Strahan will continue to co-host his daytime talker with Kelly Ripa. (Ripa also had been approached about joining GMA, but she declined, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.) Talks with Strahan began about a month ago, which predates Elliott’s decision to depart GMA, announced over the weekend, and Strahan initially will be seen on GMA a couple days a week. The addition of Strahan gives GMA an anchor with a sports background to take over that responsibility from Elliott — Strahan having spent 15 years playing for the New York Giants.