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For evidence that there may be some lingering bitterness at ABC in the wake of Josh Elliott's departure from "Good Morning America" for NBC Sports, look no further than Thursday's edition of "Good Morning America" where the network bid goodbye to its former star -- without the former star being there.
I'm hearing he was never even invited -- an indication ABC is probably angered at the way this whole thing has shaken out. In a conference call with sports media reporters Wednesday, Elliott said his move was a.) Not about the money nor b.) Had nothing with his relationship with ABC News chief, Ben Sherwood, whom he "loved" and so forth.
However . . . ABC, which offered him a reported $3-5 million to stay (versus the $2-3 million reported deal at NBC), may be feeling burned for a host of reasons. Foremost, even if Elliott never even sets foot inside Studio 1A -- as the potential successor to Matt Lauer, as industry chatter would have it -- he's suddenly put "GMA" in an awkward position. ABC was forced to scramble for a male replacement, surprising everyone, including the likely replacement himself, Michael Strahan. (Amy Robach will be the new news anchor; Strahan's role remains undefined at this point.)
Plus, as I've noted before, this confuses succession plans at ABC. George Stephanopoulos isn't going to be there forever -- hey, no one is going to be anywhere forever, except maybe Robin Roberts who now has a long-term deal and is absolutely vital to the ongoing success of this franchise. It had to have occurred to someone that Elliott might be a reasonable candidate for the job one of these days . . . Remember that in morning TV, successions don't happen over night, but usually take years.
More industry gossip: That Elliott hated the early, early mornings, and the hours, so maybe he had other ideas.
ABC declined to comment for this post, and Elliott could not be reached for comment.
"Good Morning America's" Josh Elliott -- coveted by NBC longer than the Yankees had coveted Masahiro Tanaka -- is finally going to NBC: The official line: He's joining NBC Sports, but few really believe that's the final stop for the soon-to-be former "GMA" news anchor who will be replaced by Amy Robach.
Ben Sherwood, the ABC News chief, said this in a memo, also distributed to the press:
"As many of you know, we have been negotiating with Josh these past several months. In good faith, we worked hard to close a significant gap between our generous offer and his expectations. In the end, Josh felt he deserved a different deal and so he chose a new path. I want to thank Josh for his many contributions to GMA and ABC News. Later in the week, we will bid him farewell."
Elliott's an interesting play for all sorts of reasons, but pre-eminent among those is the possibility that he will someday, and sooner than later, replace Matt Lauer. Lauer was damaged in the wake of Ann Curry's ouster, and while "Today's" ratings have improved, Matt's have not, necessarily.
Ask anyone in an official capacity at NBC about who will one day replace Matt and the answer is (not yet officially, because this is not yet "official") Willie Geist.
The reasons for Geist are compelling: He's an excellent broadcaster and a very smart guy, who has written books and knows how to interview stars (in one segment) and brain surgeons (in the next).
But it's unclear whether he has -- to use the old phrase -- lit up the boards. NBC wants an electric personality to replace Matt (when his deal ends). Lauer's long and hugely successful run ends next year, and so does his (estimated) $25 million-per-year contract. So now let the babbling begin: Will Josh be the guy? (Per reports, in the New York Post about two weeks ago, Josh wanted $8 million to stay at ABC; ABC wanted to cough up half that amount. Hey, it's TV. What can I say?)
Don't be surprised to see him on "Today" when he joins up to talk about . . . sports. And who knows what else! He's a member of the "family" now. Is Elliott the "electric" personality that NBC hopes he will be? We'll all find out together -- but he was part of a team that toppled the longest winning streaks in morning TV history. Maybe that's "electric" enough.
Meanwhile, back to the Yankees analogy: NBC is deploying a strategy that George would admire. Pick apart the winning team until . . . it's winning no longer. Smart strategy, but an expensive one, too.