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Stephanopoulos to GMA: Stepping Stone, or the Prize Itself?

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ABC made official what has long been floated: that George Stephanopoulos will leave This Week and take over Good Morning America, starting next week.

Hosting a morning show obviously takes a different skill set than a weekly political interview show. Whether Stephanopoulos is suited for it remains to be seen, and whether it is suited for Stephanopoulos depends on what his career goal is. But either way, it raises some interesting questions about where morning shows fit in the overall hierarchy of plum TV-news jobs.

First of all, let’s say ABC is eyeing George for the evening-news anchor chair down the road, after Diane Sawyer. Time was, you might look at prospective talent for the anchor chair and say: you know what? He’s good, but he needs some seasoning, some gravitas. And you’d put your upcoming star—oh, say, in a political journalism job, like covering the White House. Or hosting This Week.

Now: well, if Stephanopoulos is eventually eyeing the evening news, what does it say that the preparation is moving him from the network’s premiere political interview show to the morning show? Oh, he’s good. But he needs to lose some gravitas. Let’s get him cooking and talking about Tiger Woods!

Cheap shot at Good Morning America, yes, because I know, morning shows are also about news, they’ve been prime drivers of the news cycle for a long time, &c., &c. But they also have a higher proportion of infotainment content. And it’s arguable that for that very reason they’re better prep—if not necessary prep—for the anchor gig, much more so than a Washington pundit show. And ABC would be right to think that.

Of course all that assumes that World News is even the target. Why should it be? It is in fact true that morning shows are greater drivers of the news, landing higher-profile interviews, than the evening news now. They certainly make more money. Maybe it’s only outmoded tradition that tells us Diane Sawyer is getting the top job at ABC, and Stephanopoulos the #2 slot.

But is either the #1 or #2 slot what’s best for a political operative turned journalist? If his ultimate interests are outside political journalism, sure. But this sounds at least possibly like one of those moves you make simply because it’s what you do, because it’s considered a step up. In the changing world of TV news, though, it’s no given that the evening news is a step up from morning news, or that morning news is a step up from This Week.

Only George knows what George wants, though. Maybe he just got it.

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