By Gerrad Hall
February 10, 2020 at 09:16 PM EST
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GMA

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  • TV Show

It’s 3:15 a.m. Almost anywhere else it would be pitch-black, but outside Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre, electronic billboards high above illuminate the famous streets below. A cold wind blows down Hollywood Boulevard, which is shut down as crews work to remove what’s left of the 92nd annual Academy Awards red carpet from the night before. A few high-pitched beeps are heard from a reversing forklift. Some people try to recruit a few young women passing by, still dressed in their Oscars party clothes, to come inside and be part of the live audience for ABC’s Good Morning America.

Rick Rowell/ABC

Inside, Hollywood’s historic El Capitan Theatre, owned by Disney and host to many of its movie premieres, has been transformed into a makeshift TV studio, where in just 45 minutes GMA will host its Oscars After Party for the following two hours. As the crew puts finishing touches on the set — it’s adorned with a large crystal curtain of sorts, huge golden letters spelling out GMA, and rotating screens, among many more embellishments — and producers put finishing touches on the show’s script and content, an audience of some 150 people play with small, shimmery gold pom-poms that they’ll shake throughout the show.

Rick Rowell/ABC

Then: “20 minutes until we’re live!” a loud voice warns over the theater’s speakers. Some raise their pom-poms in the air, while a handful of audience members “whooooo” in anticipation of what’s to come. Co-anchor Michael Strahan steps onto the stage, talking to a producer, his back to the crowd. And then comes longtime co-anchor Robin Roberts, waving to and immediately engaging with everyone. The whooooos are suddenly bigger. Just like this production. While the ABC News morning show’s post-Oscars program in years past has been business as usual — the show is anchored from New York, while one or two talent join from L.A. to chat about the Oscars red carpet, the winners, the biggest fashion moments — 2020 is a clear departure from the norm.

“It’s Hollywood’s biggest night! We want to give our viewers a behind-the-scenes look not only from the red carpet and backstage like Robin and Michael did, but also the next morning after we’ve talked to all the winners,” senior executive broadcast producer Michael Corn tells EW, which was granted exclusive backstage access to the show. “It’s a special event, and we want our viewers to feel like they’re a part of it.”

“Bringing the entire show on the road, I mean, that’s a big deal. It’s a big investment, it really is,” Roberts, who’s celebrating her 15th anniversary with GMA this year, tells EW following the broadcast. “There is something about the energy of having the show on the road — I’ve been with GMA for a while now — and whether it’s our train trip or our bus trip, when we go out to the people… you can’t just stay in Times Square, you gotta get out. So it’s great to be here and it’s a perfect reason to be here.”

Rick Rowell/ABC

The show — comprising those aforementioned staple segments of any Oscars recap, including highlights of Roberts and Strahan’s post-Academy Award win interviews with Brad Pitt, Laura Dern, Renée Zellweger, and more — also features a performance by Green Day of their latest single, “Oh Yeah,” as well as a handful of dancers to help kick off the 8 o’clock hour (more on that later). But before any of that, right after wrapping up the first 20-minute segment, it’s evident that all the Oscars talk and impromptu chatter has already consumed more of the show than originally allotted. During the first commercial break, Corn and a producer he’s speaking with via headset rework the half-hour that follows to make up time. Chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, who’s in the New York studio (he moderated Friday night’s Democratic presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire), updates the audience on the coronavirus outbreak (new numbers, plus what’s happening on a cruise ship off the coast of Japan that has more than 135 infected passengers on board). That on-the-spot cut, typical for any live broadcast, gets things back on track for the time being.

Also during that break, and several that follow, Roberts wanders into the crowd for photos with audience members, occasionally taking the selfies herself. Strahan jokes with some that they’re “crazy” for getting up so early to be at the show, which started at 4 a.m. local time.

“It’s so nice of [the audience to be]. That’s why we feed them doughnuts,” cohost and entertainment anchor Lara Spencer jokes after enjoying one of the custom-made Oscar-themed pastries from Trejo’s Donuts. “We understand that we’re asking a lot of them to get up in the middle of the night and come be really energetic and help bring that je ne sais quoi to the show that we need. We thrive off of that audience interaction.”

Rick Rowell/ABC

Need, indeed. Especially when working on just a few hours of sleep.

“I’m in a way better mood than I usually am, so I don’t know what it is, I don’t know,” says cohost and chief meteorologist Ginger Zee of the “pretty solid” three and a half hours of rest she’s managed following her first time covering the Oscars red carpet. If she’s tired, she’s not showing it; her jovial spirit and lively energy are unmistakable as she sits in the back of the theater in the minutes leading up to showtime, unsuspectingly shouting “I love GMA!” and “Strahan rules!” as if she’s just another excited audience member. “[The amount of sleep] doesn’t matter,” she says. “When we have the excitement like this, and coming off of there, I think the adrenaline is so high. Talk to me in an hour and a half when I hit the airplane and I am stone-cold knocked out because I have to get back for World News Tonight. I better sleep [on the plane], or else it’s going to be ugly with David Muir.”

Things almost get ugly for Roberts. During the kickoff to the second hour, as dancers perform a choreographed routine on the stage, she’s supposed to launch out of a trap door in the stage floor. In what appears to be an otherwise quite smooth show, especially for one done outside the familiar confines of their Times Square studio, it’s the biggest hiccup in the show, as Roberts emerges on her knees rather than upright. Still, she’s smiling the entire time.

“Oh, gosh! That was the plan, for me to come out on my knees to say how great it was to be here in the El Capitan,” she jokes, probably preferring to forget it ever happened, but clearly a good sport about it nonetheless. “But it was really funny because we had some people that — it’s called the Mickey lift — and so somebody who was trying it out for me wasn’t in 6-inch heels. I’m in 6-inch heels. So when it starts to look a little faster than I anticipated, I put my hand up to try and grab the wall but the wall is moving, so all of a sudden there wasn’t a wall and was like, ‘Hello! How are ya?! Nice to see you.’ … And Michael Strahan. Wait till I see him. I’m gonna put him in a headlock. He wanted to air it again! But like my mom said, when you strut, you stumble.”

Rick Rowell/ABC

Her playful, and humble, take on the situation isn’t surprising, especially after witnessing the show’s on-air team when they’re off air. But they didn’t travel alone. Dozens of the show’s behind-the-scenes team made the journey as well.

“It’s like going on the best family trip ever. We get ready together, we’re backstage together, and, there’s this great camaraderie in it that is a shared experience,” Spencer explains. “It’s always fun being backstage [at the Oscars] and talking to the winners, but when you have your comrades and arms with you, it just makes it all that more special.”

After months of planning, and the undoubted challenges and headaches that come with an endeavor like this, the biggest, Corn says, in “recreating our show on such a large scale on a different coast and different time zone.” The stage manager counts down to the end of these two hours, now with just one hand flashing four seconds, as they wrap things up with Green Day. Zee quickly closes the show. The pom-poms shake, the whooooos escalate to thunderous cheers, and then, “We’re clear.”

Rick Rowell/ABC

As outside on Hollywood Boulevard, no time is wasted in deconstructing the set. The crew begins to wheel away the huge G of GMA into the theater’s wings. The audience begins to trickle out, snagging leftover doughnuts on the way. Before much of Los Angeles has even awakened, ABC has already presented, according to Corn, “the best of GMA after one of the biggest events on television.”

Knowing that, he says, is the biggest reward. “And a nap.”

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