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Joan Lunden Bids Farewell to the 'Good Morning' Life

Television: The co-host of the ABC program for 17 years has signed a book contract and is considering acting.

September 06, 1997|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Joan Lunden ended 17 years as co-host of ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday with a program filled with sentimental farewells and a few jokes about the dubious pleasures of a glamorous job that requires getting up at 3:30 every weekday morning.

Charles Gibson, Lunden's co-host for the past 10 years, praised her as an important role model for women.

"Joan was the first woman on network television to share her pregnancies with the audience," Gibson said. "She helped demonstrate that you can do both: raise a family and have a career."

The 46-year-old Lunden--the longest-running morning-news host on network TV--is leaving "Good Morning America" with a variety of job prospects, including acting.

Lunden said she's been approached by several sitcom producers. She already has taped an appearance as herself on the fall premiere of CBS' "Murphy Brown" and has a guest shot on an NBC midseason comedy, "Lateline."

"I've been offered several scripts," Lunden said in an interview Friday. "I'm going to take some time off to think about what I want to do next."

Lunden may consider doing a syndicated talk show, and she has signed a contract to write her third book, which will deal with her career transition.

In the meantime, she has more than two years left on an ABC contract that took effect last February. She will anchor five prime-time specials over the next 18 months and also may contribute to ABC's "PrimeTime Live" and "20/20."

Lunden had announced last May that she would be leaving "Good Morning America" so that she could spend mornings with her three daughters. The decision coincided with ABC's need to shake up the program that she joined as a contributor in 1976: Once the most popular network morning show, it has trailed NBC's "Today" show in the ratings for 88 weeks.

"We've been affected by ABC's ratings in prime time," ABC News Chairman Roone Arledge said. "ABC has been closer to Fox than to NBC in prime time at this point, but we expect that will change this fall."

Arledge has hired former KABC-TV Channel 7 anchor Lisa McRee to take over Lunden's job, beginning Monday. "I think Lisa and Charlie Gibson will be terrific," he said.

Gibson has a contract that allows him to leave "GMA" with six months' notice, and there had been speculation that he might join ABC's "20/20" this fall. But Gibson said he intends to stay on "GMA" for the foreseeable future.

"I'm looking forward to working with Lisa," said Gibson, who has co-hosted "GMA" since 1987. "I told [ABC News executives] some time ago that they ought to be thinking about who will be the next Charlie Gibson at some point. But when Joan announced that she was leaving, any talk about that was put in suspension."

"I would like to see Charlie stay on 'GMA' for a long time," Arledge said.

The two new producers in charge of "Good Morning America" say they plan to emphasize more segments about careers and working women.

"We want to be more reflective of the fact that there are a lot of working mothers and two-career couples in the audience," said Mark Lukasiewicz, a former "PrimeTime Live" producer who was named "GMA" executive producer in July.

Shelley Lewis, the deputy executive producer on the show, said that the set will be changed, and several new features added.

Lewis, who was executive producer on ABC's "World News Now" when it was anchored by McRee, praised McRee's versatility in delivering hard news and features.

"She's warm and sunny, even on an overnight newscast," Lewis said. McRee was in London this week, reporting for the show on the death of Princess Diana.

Arledge said that Kevin Newman, who has been reading the news on "GMA" on an interim basis, will be given the job full time.

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