Tuned In

G-Steph's GMA Debut: Can He Master the Dumb News?

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In the interest of fairness, let me disclose: I cannot fairly review George Stephanopoulos‘ first day on Good Morning America, because I only caught the second hour of the program. On the other hand, let’s face it: that second hour is what is going to make or break G-Steph as a morning host. You may have objections to his style or his political background, but I think it’s pretty much a given that he has the skill set to manage the news interviews that (usually) dominate the opening hour of the show.

What George has to prove he can navigate, however, are the second-hour features, what we affectionately know here in the Tuned In household as: The Dumb News. And from the snapshot we saw this morning, Stephanopoulos needs to study up on dumbing it down.

G-Steph’s adaptation to the happy consumer news of the morning seemed most uncomfortable in a segment on Christmas shopping using online coupon codes. (They’ve gotten much harder!) The  bit was structured, playfully, as an effort by ABC’s online-shopping correspondent to help outfit Stephanopoulos for his move (cold-weather clothes for NYC, a coffee maker for those early mornings). But he seemed a bit strained at trying to play along. Asked, “You do much online shopping?” he sheepishly answered, “Mmmmmm, not so much.” He went through the rest of the segment as if listening to the not-especially-interesting customs of a remote tribe. Can you use coupon codes for any kind of gift? How big coffee machines are these days!

Now, ABC I’m sure would say this is not the kind of segment they brought the new host in for; that GMA is becoming harder and newsier (we’ll see how that goes). And sure, Robin Roberts and Sam Champion can carry much of the second-hour lifting. But George still needs to be able to get into the mix, in a way that the contrast between his style and his co-hosts is not glaring and awkward.

You could say that being in the Clinton War Room could not have prepared him for this. But actually, you could say that that 1992 campaign pioneered precisely the kind of overlap between the personal and the political that Stephanopoulos will have to negotiate on GMA. His own boss Bill Clinton encountered in the 1992 debates the political importance of knowing the price of a gallon of milk. Likewise, in the world of morning TV, Stephanopoulos will need to master some sort of regular-folks connection to his viewers—not necessarily pretending he’s one of them, which he’s not and shouldn’t have to be, but maybe at least loosening up and having fun with his fish-out-of-water situation.

It’s only been one day, and Stephanopoulos will have time to adjust. But I’m guessing he has a mantra already as to what area of his presentation he most needs to work on: It’s the home economics, stupid.

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