NEW YORK - Good Morning America's Times Square studio is right in the middle of one of the busiest spots in America.
But that's only part of the chaos. In this tiny studio, dozens of staffers scurry about, coffees in hand, touching up powder here, moving cables there.
But among the throngs of crew members, there's no doubt who the stars of the show are.
Robin, George, Sam, Josh and Lara. We know them by their first names. We also know them as the ones with the heavy makeup, the designer clothes, with the spotlights trained on them. But that stuff is all part of the job. Once you take off the vestiges of television, they blend in seamlessly with the camera operators and the producers.
The GMA family is, in fact, a family.
Robin Roberts is the motor that makes this show go. To put this in terms that I can understand, she's the mayo that keeps the salami sandwich together. She just celebrated 10 years at GMA, and yet, her exuberance shows she isn't getting tired of the morning wake up call. The 3 a.m. wake up call. Sure, she is a former sports anchor at ESPN. But she's earned her news reputation with great interviews and the ability to make anyone, even lowly reporters from Cincinnati, feel welcome.
George Stephanopoulos might seem like the odd man out, like the disciplinarian to four rambunctious kids. But his co-workers say he's not as serious as the rest of us think. Well, kind of. He is that serious, but he's not that serious all the time. He's a quiet funny, they say. Every team needs a straight man, and for this team, that man is George. He brings a hard news, political, bulldog background to a happy morning show.
Josh Elliott is the newbie. He celebrated one year in the "news reader" desk in late April. But what a background: Sports Illustrated writer, ESPN contributor, then ESPN anchor. He followed in Robin's footsteps from Bristol to NYC and he fits like a well-oiled leather glove.
Sam Champion wasn't there the day that we visited. But his biggest fans were -- his cohorts on the GMA anchor desk. You can tell that Sam is respected among his peers, because, well, that's what they told us. His quick wit and knowledge, as well as his passion for everything weather gives him instant credibility.
Lara Spencer is on her second tour of duty at GMA -- she just couldn't stay away. She is a live wire, even early on a Monday when most people are still shaking off the weekend. She ran to the set at the last minute, still putting on her necklace, tossing her hair, smile on her face, singing Justin Bieber. "Nerves" is not, apparently, in her vocabulary.
That's your background. Those are the faces you see every day, smiling, bringing you the stories and the jokes and the interviews that mark your mornings.
Each day this week on Good Morning Tri-State, we delve a little deeper into our day at GMA. Join us at 6 a.m. each morning for more.
Monday: It's worth repeating that the GMA studio is small. Tiny, even. It's about half the size of ours here at 9 News. But then again, it's New York real estate, and square footage is at a premium. (I watch "Selling New York." I get it.) But in addition to the tiny space, there are so many people running around that it's almost continual chaos.
On the day we visited, Vince Gill and Chris Botti performed with a piano accompanist and they were fantastic. But to accommodate the three of them, the crew had to fold up a riser that houses the famous GMA couch just to make enough room for the cameras.
Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Walsh from Private Practice were also guests this day, and at one point, our cameras were right in the middle of a three-star pileup. Walsh was entering the studio, as SJP (yeah, we're that close) was leaving after her interview, and there we were -- right in both of their paths, interviewing Robin. She took control, directing SJP to the elevator, Kate to the set, all the while answering questions from us.
"This is our life. It isn't bad," she said. "It's a mad house!"
One more note about that couch: I'm pretty sure it's made out of raw plywood covered by a thin layer of batting and burlap. That's why they sit up so straight. It's about as comfortable as watching Dance Moms.
Tuesday: Back to Josh for a moment. He has an interesting theory about why we feel so close to those morning anchors.
Think about what you look like in the morning. And what your house looks like. And what your kids act like. It's that state of disarray that he says makes our relationships with the folks at GMA stronger.
"If you had a dinner party, you'd invite people. You'd tell them to bring a friend, you'd make a nice dinner, " Josh said. "The morning? You're not inviting just anybody over to your house for breakfast. It's a very special group you welcome into your house
in the morning and it helps us that we are all so close."
Wednesday: There is one question I've been asked more than any other since coming back from Times Square.
"Do they really get along?"
And as far I can tell, the answer is a resounding yes.
Think about it: It was a Monday at the crack of dawn. There are two strikes right there. But these guys acted like they hadn't seen each other in weeks. There were hugs, lighthearted digs -- and unless they are all fantastic actors, it's real.
Lara Spencer even interview-bombed our discussion with Robin Roberts to explain. And Robin shared the love.
"For the first 45 minutes of the show, we're like 'In the news this morning...' and then she comes in and it's like 'Yay Lara!'," Robin said. "But she can do it all. "
Lara responded giving the love right back to Robin.
"You know what, I love you for saying that, but this is not about me, It's about you," Lara said. Then she turned to us to keep the compliments for Robin coming.
"She won't tell you, but she is the team captain. She is the glue. She is the thing that keeps us together everyday. She's the reason that all of us have so much fun," Lara said.
Watching Josh and Sam interact on air, you get the impression these guys have their own dictionary of inside jokes. And the mutual admiration continues.
"Sam is definitely the funniest," Josh said. "He is the quickest human being I've ever been around. He's the best live TV person I've ever been around."
So what exactly makes this work -- a couple of former sports anchors, a guy with roots in politics, a NYC weather guy and a perky entertainment reporter?
"I don't know what the magic is," George said. "I don't know exactly how it worked, or if we even thought it would in the beginning, but boy, it sure does."
I think the rest of us will concur.
Thursday: So which GMA anchor doesn't even need an alarm clock to get up -- at 2:24 a.m.? Yep, it's George. He says he wakes up on his own. He also works at least six days a week. That dude is driven.
He gets to the studio at 4:30 a.m., followed a half hour later by Robin, then Josh, Sam and Lara.
And as fun and as carefree as this team seems, Robin has a fairly serious ritual every morning.
"But what I ask," she said, "before I leave me home is that a light shines through me. I want a light to shine through me to make people feel better about their day."
And after polling the anchors, we found out that Josh is the pick for funniest, George and Robin both (really!) for most serious, and no one gets the nod for "most morning person." If that was a thing. Sounds like the superlative page in a high school yearbook.
Friday: You may wonder how these people look so chipper and so beautiful that early in the morning. They say there are a couple of secrets to their success.
First of all, the only thing we were asked not to shoot on the GMA set were the anchors -- or their star guests -- getting their makeup on.
Robin has a great sense of humor about it, and said, after watching video over her 10 years on GMA, "You can see things have gotten better over the last 10 years. I don't know what I was thinking back in the day. It takes a team of people to put Humpty Dumpty together every morning."
And sure, there's coffee to perk them up in the morning, but the anchors on the GMA set know where their bread is buttered, and who does the buttering. It's you.
"It's actually kind of fun to get a jolt of energy every morning," George said, referring to the crowd of people outside GMA's studios every day. "At first it took a little getting used to working in a fishbowl -- then you get the energy from them, the enthusiasm. There they are every morning."
"The people that come to the newsroom, that watch us, that stand in the rain, the cold - they're everything to us," she said.