Monday, May 28, 2012

Good Morning America

I discovered morning shows when I had to be up early to go to school in the seventies and the kids shows that were on that early were, for the most part, far too young for me by that point. My first favorite was AM AMERICA with Bill Beutel and Stephanie Edwards in 1975. That one didn't last very long, however and was retooled by ABC to become GOOD MORNING AMERICA, a sort of happy news alternative to the by-then staid and journalistic TODAY SHOW over on NBC. 

Seen below is most of the early cast of GOOD MORNING AMERICA as it began its slow climb toward dethroning TODAY. L-R front row: David Hartman, Rona Barrett, Erma Bombeck, Nancy Dussault. Back row: John Lindsay, Geraldo Rivera, unknown, Jack Anderson

The odd choice for hosting this two hour daily mix of news, features and commentary was gangly actor David Hartman, star of TV's THE BOLD ONES and LUCAS TANNER and in Disney's big-screen THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD. To this day, I can't imagine what led to that decision but, perhaps against all odds, it worked. Hartman was personable, inquisitive and turned out t be a pretty good journalist as well. 

His initial co-host was Nancy Dussault, yet another thespian without any previous experience of this sort. She would be better served as Ted Knight's wife on TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT after leaving GMA.

Nancy was replaced by Sandy Hill. Sandy and David, if I recall, had a bit of a feud behind the scenes. She was a real reporter and ended up making a good host as well. 

Steve Bell was, for many years, the anchorman at the studio news desk for the twice hourly updates of headlines. 

Geraldo Rivera, long before becoming a punchline and a Fox News shill, was at the time the hot, long-haired young turk with a reputation for emotional and risky reporting and for getting things done.

For entertainment news, GMA turned to Rona Barrett, the successor to the classic gossip columnists of old. Her reports appeared twice a day and she also contributed more substantial entertainment stories from time to time.

Controversial old-style, muckracking reporter Jack Anderson appeared frequently, often offering his reports without naming names. In time, he seemed to become a bit of a paranoid conspiracy-theorist but truth to tell, there were periods when "they" really were after him!

Rounding out the early cast was domestic humorist Erma Bombeck, a columnist and author well-known for her insightful, urban folksy anecdotes.

Later on, the cast would be joined by film critic Joel Siegel who would end up outlasting all of the other original cast members. In an odd coincidence, my wife met Mr. Siegel on the GMA set in 2001 and I myself met him when he came through my Airport store not long before his death a few years later.
Joan Lunden replaced Sandy Hill and meshed perfectly with Hartman, the two becoming the definitive hosts of GOOD MORNING AMERICA in spite of more rumors of backstage issues. She would last many seasons.

David Hartman eventually moved on and there have been many sitting in his seat over the years since. When I think of GOOD MORNING AMERICA, however, I still think of it as "David Hartman's show" with all of those others just sitting in for him. 

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