'GMA' plans to have fun during sweeps
By DAVID BAUDER
NEW YORK — ABC's new "Good Morning America" crew won't be trying to match Matt Lauer's frequent-flier mileage with its May ratings stunt. Instead, it's going for some personal wish fulfillment.
This week's series is a further attempt to help viewers get to know the hosts competing with Lauer and his so-far unassailable "Today" show team. Viewers will be able to watch George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts and their colleagues fly and jump out of airplanes, play poker or get baseball advice from Alex Rodriguez.
Stephanopoulos will be testing his poker face, getting tips and playing a game with some of the world's best players in an Atlantic City casino.
Roberts will pay tribute to her late father, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. She'll be getting into the cockpit of a Beechcraft King Air with the most comforting of pilots: retired Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed a disabled jet safely in the Hudson River last year as Roberts watched from her apartment window in amazement.
"I just know my dad would have loved Sully," she said.
It's the second time Roberts has taken advantage of her network role to take to the air. "I've often thought that if this broadcasting thing didn't work out, you'd hear me out of the loudspeaker saying, 'This is your captain, Robin Roberts, speaking,'" she said.
Newsreader Juju Chang visits the Yankees, weatherman Sam Champion explores the ocean with the grandson of Jacques Cousteau and weekend host Bill Weir may have the craziest stunt of all. He will be seen skydiving out of various aircraft, including a hot-air balloon.
It's a little fun in a serious time since the new team took over in mid-December.
"It's been a good time to start because there's so much going on, from the health care debate to so much focus on the economy and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Stephanopoulos said. "It gives us plenty of fodder for the morning. I'm learning about the rest of the show, too."
Ah, that other stuff. That's been the main concern about the former chief Washington correspondent, that he'd look stiff and wouldn't enjoy the cooking segments and interviews with the reality show starlets that are the inevitable part of his job. As the two hours move on, the audience for morning shows becomes more heavily concentrated in women, and the network programs to that.
"He totally gets it," Roberts said. "He understands our audience as the show progresses."
Stephanopoulos said: "I've been surprised at how much fun it's been to interview the 'Dancing With the Stars' castoffs."
"GMA" remains a distant second to "Today" in the ratings, averaging 940,000 fewer voters last week. But the gap is 17 percent smaller than the same week last year. More encouraging for ABC is that it accomplished a changeover from the Diane Sawyer years without taking a hit.