US morning talk shows have a new strategy: If you can’t beat them, steal them

All is fair in war and television.
All is fair in war and television.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
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Since losing the morning show ratings crown to Good Morning America in 2012, NBC’s Today show has tried everything to regain the top spot it held for 16 years, without much success. So now, it seems to have adopted a new approach: If you can’t beat them, steal them.

News just broke that GMA news anchor Josh Elliott is leaving ABC and its top-rated morning show for NBC Sports, where he’ll have a major role in all of the network’s biggest sports events, including the Olympics, Sunday Night Football and the Triple Crown. It’s the second time in four months that NBC Universal has poached one of GMA’s top anchors: in December, it hired away weather anchor Sam Champion to become the Weather Channel’s managing editor and head up its new morning show, AMHQ with Sam Champion.

Of course, poaching is nothing new in the morning show wars (CBS hired away Today’s Bryant Gumbel in 1997; he began hosting The Early Show in 1999), but this is a new evolution as media conglomerates have continued to expand. NBC Universal can in essence kill two birds with one stone: fill a vital need in one area of its company (NBC Sports was searching for a viable heir apparent to Bob Costas, the Weather Channel was looking to keep viewers tuned in more than 15 minutes each morning) while simultaneously boosting another property—Today—by damaging a competitor, and the tight-knit five-person anchor team that propelled GMA to first place. Suddenly, two of those five anchors have been snapped up by NBC Universal.

While neither Elliott nor Champion will be working directly for Today (at least, not yet: Elliott’s contract prevents him from appearing on Today for six months), it’s still one of NBC’s most effective morning show moves yet, and one that it—along with Disney, Viacom, News Corp. and the other large media companies—should be deploying more in the future.