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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

George Stephanopoulos on the celebrity beat

The co-host of 'Good Morning America' talks about his new job duties.

February 07, 2010|By Matea Gold

Reporting from New York — Clinton-aide-turned-political-journalist George Stephanopoulos had some reservations about whether he would be the right person to replace Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America." But the 48-year-old said adjusting from his Sunday political talk show "This Week" to morning television wasn't as hard as he thought it would be. It didn't

hurt that he scored the first interview with President Obama after the Democrats lost

the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat last month.

I know you were a morning person before this, but how has your routine changed?

I get up around 3:45 and I'm in the office by 4:25. I used to think I worked hard. It's nothing compared to this. The intensity, how packed your days are -- it's like you're back in the White House, except that you have to be on TV all the time.

What has been the most surprising aspect of "GMA?"

How much fun it's been, and so far, how relatively easy the transition has been. I thought it was going to be much more awkward.

What did you think was going to be awkward about it?

The whole dynamic, you know. Four [anchors] instead of one. The range of subjects. The amount of chat. I'm much more used to doing my own analysis or driving the hour-long show myself. All television is a team effort, but this on the air is far more than I had been used to.

In the same week you interviewed President Obama you also talked about Heidi Montag's plastic surgery and did a cooking segment with Emeril. Do you ever feel like, "I'm a Rhodes scholar, what am I doing?"

Not exactly. First of all, I got to spend a half-hour with the president, which I wouldn't be doing if I hadn't gotten this job. Listen, I had real questions about taking this job. I was wrong. I don't feel like I have really given up so much and I've gained so much more.

But do you find some of the lighter segments uncomfortable?

Yeah, some of them. But there are so many, and you're not going to bat a thousand. It's a much more forgiving medium. On "This Week," if I make a big mistake in my own wheelhouse on a once-a-week show, I think about it for a day or two. Here, you've got another segment in five minutes.

During your recent interview with Rudy Giuliani, he made a statement that there were no domestic terrorism attacks under President Bush, and you didn't challenge him. What were you thinking at the time?

I absolutely should have caught him on it. It was one of those things, we're 30 seconds from wrapping up, I'm getting the call. And it was the kind of thing -- again, this is no excuse -- that looks different in print than when it was happening.

Some of your competitors have implied that you got the Obama interview because of your friendship with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

I don't think that's what it was. I talk to a lot of people there all the time. I just think this is one of the places where experience and persistence pays off. Obviously, I've been involved in these issues for an awful long time: I've reported on them, I've lived through them in the White House and in my political life.

Some conservatives have suggested that you have a friendship with Rahm in which you advise him.

That's insane.

I imagine you have a vested interest in seeing what happens to "This Week." Do you have any thoughts on who should succeed you?

Oh, if I did, I couldn't tell you. I think so

far both Terry [Moran] and Jake [Tapper]

have done great work. One of the unfortunate things is that we're in this situation now where there's not a final answer, but it will come soon enough.

Is there any secret pop culture obsession that you now get to indulge in on "GMA?" Are you a big fan of, say, " Brothers & Sisters?"

[laughing] No. The truth is, I'm just having to learn. But that's part of the fun of it.

What have you found is the difference between interviewing celebrities and interviewing politicians?

I'm still feeling my way through that. I try to approach it in the same way in one respect: I try to think hard before the interview, just what are we trying to get out of it? Everyone is different. Some people come on who are just there to play. Others have something to sell. Others aren't exactly sure why they're there. The best advice I've gotten is that 90% of the show is really a variation of the Woody Allen role: not just showing up, but really being there. Letting it happen and letting yourself react in a human way, in an intelligent way.

Any segment you've found incredibly fun?

I didn't do a very good job, but getting to interview Meryl Streep was just a gift. And I confess, by Friday morning when Emeril comes on, I could use the food.

matea.gold@latimes.com

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