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‘Good Morning America’ celebrates 30 years

Original hosts David Hartman and Joan Lunden joined the celebration
/ Source: The Associated Press

As he dodged past the stage set up for Carlos Santana toward a traffic island in Times Square, the differences between David Hartman’s “Good Morning America” and the current one couldn’t have been more plain.

“Sitting there with Joan [Lunden] and doing the opening was a little surreal,” Hartman said Thursday, “because it’s been 15 years.”

More like 18, actually, but time flies. The ABC morning show hearkened back to its glory years for a 30th anniversary celebration on Thursday, not so coincidentally marking the opening of the crucial November ratings sweeps period. There was plenty of cake, confetti — and champagne after cameras were turned off, of course.

The genial Hartman led “Good Morning America” to the top of the morning rankings before leaving in 1987. That was before the Times Square studio and before the days morning shows became an important profit center for their networks.

“It was all interviews and talk — purely information,” Hartman said. “Now it’s kind of morphed between news and information but also a significant amount of entertainment. It’s the nature of the industry today, it’s not good or bad. It’s what the networks have to do to please people who get up in the morning.”

As he and Lunden stood with current hosts Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, it was almost as if the dark days of the late 1990s, the Kevin Newman and Lisa McRee era, didn’t exist (they were invited but didn’t attend).

Competition with ‘Today’ still hotOne thing that hasn’t changed is the heated competition with NBC. The “Today” show has stabilized since nearly being eclipsed by “GMA” last May, and its winning streak stretched to a remarkable 516 straight weeks when they defeated ABC by an average of 350,000 viewers last week, according to Nielsen Media Research.

(MSNBC is a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft.)

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ABC still believes “GMA” is the show on the rise, and will continue to put pressure on its cross-town rivals.

“Good Morning America” is also awaiting the lifting of some uncertainty over its own future. Gibson is considered a prime candidate to replace the late Peter Jennings as “World News Tonight” anchorman, and ABC must weigh whether it can afford to lose him on a show with such financial importance to the network.

Gibson, shortly after closing Thursday’s show from the traffic island, said he doesn’t know what will happen, but that he’s very happy at “Good Morning America.”

“This is what I am anticipating doing,” he said. “This is what I expect to do. This is fine.”

With ratings under close watch because sweeps are under way, the next few weeks will likely bring a series of special events and attempts at one-upmanship in the morning. “Today” is resurrecting its “Where in the world is Matt Lauer” feature, something that it usually does in May.

“They’re the champs and this is the playoffs,” said “GMA” executive producer Ben Sherwood. “What’s exciting is that on any given day, anyone can win the game.”