|DIANE SAWYER & CHARLES GIBSON|
October 29, 1999
Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson, co-anchors on ABC's "Good Morning America," recently spoke with media correspondent Terence Smith about the successful morning news formula. The following are extended excerpts from the interview.
TERENCE SMITH: What makes the morning different in terms of a news
|Gold mine or land mine?|
TERENCE SMITH: For years, of course, the networks really competed in
the evening. The evening news was everything for the network news divisions.
Now, it seems the emphasis, the money they're spending on new studios,
the energy is going into the morning. Why?
|A battle for second place|
TERENCE SMITH: This is, in essence -- we went over and talked to the
folks at CBS, who are gearing up now to make a major effort on their
part after years and years of being an also-ran. They describe it as
a battle for second place. That means a battle with you. Is it?
|A $600 million prize|
|TERENCE SMITH: At the formidable competition.
But I think the notion was -- the notion behind the statement is what I'm getting at, which is this is suddenly a huge financial deal for network news divisions that are in trouble at other times of the day, and that share in the morning a common pool of some $600 million in revenues, where a single rating point can be $70 million difference in revenues. You're looking surprised.
CHARLES GIBSON: Those figures are absolutely news to me. I don't know if they're correct or wrong. I have no idea.
DIANE SAWYER: I have never heard that figure either.
TERENCE SMITH: Are you feeling underpaid?
DIANE SAWYER: Well, since we're not being paid at all, yes.
CHARLES GIBSON: Yeah. They came to us and said, "Would you do us a favor?" And we said, "Yeah." What were those numbers again? It's a $600 million prize?
TERENCE SMITH: The pool of revenues for the three network morning news shows is $600 million.
CHARLES GIBSON: Gross.
TERENCE SMITH: Gross.
DIANE SAWYER: We can afford more than bagels in the green room.
TERENCE SMITH: If a show gets one -- improves by one rating --
CHARLES GIBSON: It's a marginal point.
TERENCE SMITH: One point, it equals an additional $70 million in revenues. That's my point. This, for network news divisions that are under stress from a variety of cost cutting and other pressures, and are losing audience in other parts of the day, they are gaining audience here, and they see a chance to make big money.
CHARLES GIBSON: We are really insulated from those figures. And to be honest with you, I'm sort of sorry you've told me those figures. Seriously. Because if you begin to think about that, then it preys on your mind, and you can't begin to think, "If we do this story, will it bump ratings X percent? If we avoid that, will we keep people from running away from us?" You really have to say, "What's the broadcast we ought to be doing?" And try to do it. And if you let those numbers get into your head, it can become insidious.
|It's really fun|
|TERENCE SMITH: This street-side studio, tell me about it.
What does it offer you? What do you do with it? Is it fun?
DIANE SAWYER: It's really fun. It's really fun. It's automatic energy. It's orange juice. It's a B-12 shot, to have people wandering in off the street, and they look up, and there you are, and maybe Garth Brooks is singing or a camel is -- had too much fiber. Anything can be happening in the morning when they're going by, and it's wonderful to have the real -- it's not canned, what you're seeing downstairs. These are people who can wander by. They didn't just come to see us, a lot of them. They wandered by and happened to see us. So I love the fact that there's still something authentic and real going on.
TERENCE SMITH: Are you both now struck by the fact that the three shows are in a sense going to these studios, that they are becoming visually clones of one another, with street-side studios, two primary anchors, a certain mix of news and entertainment? I wonder, is there nothing new in the morning?
CHARLES GIBSON: But, Terry, they were largely similar a long time ago. There's no question "The Today Show" started it more than 40 years ago. And then "Good Morning America" came along and reinvented morning television, and got a period of ascendancy. And we were all doing essentially the same broadcast. When we came to ascendancy, "The Today Show" modified to copy us.
TERENCE SMITH: And when you say "reinvented," describe what you mean.
CHARLES GIBSON: Well, it was a little bit more informal, it was a little bit more chatty. It was more of a pastiche than it had been before. Dave Garroway and John Chancellor did it as a much serious broadcast. I think "Good Morning America," David Hartman lightened it up a little bit, without for a minute forgetting that it was primarily a news and information broadcast. But they were very similar then. And then "The Today Show" went to this window, and it had an effect. It lent energy to the broadcast, and that is a critical part of television, that people be energized. And this studio, I think, really takes it -- a quantum leap forward. It's not simply imitative. I mean, we're projected right out in the middle of what I think is -- not arguably -- is the most famous intersection in America.
DIANE SAWYER: And don't you think that habit and a little bit of the predictable is your friend in the morning? Because you're gaging your morning by when the news comes on and when the weather comes on, and how much time do you have. And it really is a nice accompaniment to your morning. And every time somebody tries to go in and reinvent what we do, it always ends up being more about technology and sets, and flash and dash, forgetting the main thing, which is, what we do at our best is still interesting people saying interesting, important things with a little bit of fun and some heart.
TERENCE SMITH: How different is this from what you did with Charles Kuralt how many years ago at CBS?
DIANE SAWYER: Oh, this is really different, because -- what I did after Charles Kuralt with Bill Curtis is much more similar -- but Charles and I were basically taking what was on the evening news and redoing it and rewriting it and crafting little things. And he would do his funny little vignettes in the morning. It was only an hour broadcast. But it was not about the spontaneous. It was not about the first thing that comes in your head in the morning at all.
TERENCE SMITH: And, Charlie, has it changed over the years that you've done it?
CHARLES GIBSON: Sure. It is a much more spontaneous broadcast. It is off-script. It's basically what's going through your head at the moment, and what interests you, what do you find intellectually intriguing in the morning. And I think it's pushing that way, and it's also pushing toward a little bit more high energy, and that's the reason for these changes in sets.
|Looking for a story to tell|
|TERENCE SMITH: It's also going to launch, inevitably, a
booking war for the good guests, the most interesting and attractive guests
of a given morning or week. Steve Friedman says he's prepared to deal,
the executive producer of the new CBS show. He's prepared to deal. He
makes no bones about it. He's prepared to have -- make multiple bookings,
bring on two stars in a movie, make all kinds of deals. Makes no bones
about it. Jeff Zucker says he won't deal, won't make any promises. What
CHARLES GIBSON: Well, I'm surprised Steve would say that, because I think generally there is a move away from talking to people simply about "What intrigued you about making this movie?" And "What was it like working with Burt Lancaster?" That's sort of gone now. And you're looking for people really who have stories to tell, so I don't know how much Steve is going to have to deal. If he's giving five and six parts to a movie where he's talking to the gaffer on the movie or the assistant director or the prop guy, then I think he's probably doing something he doesn't need to do.
TERENCE SMITH: Is there, Diane, from a journalistic point of view, any corruption in your mind in the idea of making deals with people, booking guests with enticements?
DIANE SAWYER: It depends what you do, and it depends whether you're violating your own sense of what is valuable, what is intelligent, and what is gained sometimes too. You know, the booking war is nothing new. The booking war has been going on for decades, and it's only more visible in the morning because you have a third party joining in, but it's always taken place.
To me the challenge has never been so much about that; it's about how intelligent can you make it? How smart can you be? And are you trading against your ability to make something interesting and intelligent? And I think that's more corrupt than simply saying, "Somebody decided to do two parts, and they decided to do three, so they must be corrupt." If the did three really intelligently and informatively, that's journalism.
CHARLES GIBSON: But you know, Terry, when morning television started, it was really the only outlet for those kinds of interviews. If a new movie was coming out or if a artistic project somewhere was being launched, there really was nowhere else to go on television to talk about those things. Now there is talk television all through the day, so if somebody comes on to talk about a movie, they're on a morning show, and then they're on another show in the late morning, and then they're on another show in the early afternoon, and then they're on "Entertainment Tonight." I mean, it goes on and on and on. So it's not unique any more. So our focus is who has a story to tell? Who has something really interesting to talk about? What's different? What's intelligent? What will really capture your imagination or your heart strings or whatever? And that's what we're looking for, not just the third lead of a movie.
TERENCE SMITH: OK. That's great. Thank you both very much, because I know you've got a lot to do.