When Josh Elliott left ABC and “Good Morning America” for NBC in March 2014, it seemed like a move that could have substantial repercussions, with Elliott tabbed by many as the successor to either Bob Costas or Matt Lauer. That hasn’t happened, though, with Elliott himself saying last May that his contract is only with NBC Sports (why he hasn’t appeared on NBC’s “Today”) and that he’s not going to replace Lauer (and Costas also seems entrenched at the top of NBC Sports for now). Elliott has contributed features to a wide variety of NBC sports and news platforms, but he hasn’t had as prominent a role as some might have expected, and that’s sparked some speculation about his future, with Variety‘s Ramin Setoodeh reporting that Elliott could be returning to ABC:
Nearly 18 months after leaving ABC News for NBC Sports, Josh Elliott is in talks to return to his old job as the news reader on “Good Morning America,” Variety has learned.
According to two people with knowledge of the situation, ABC executives are potentially open to a plan to buy Elliott out of his $4 million-a-year contract at NBC, and put him back on “GMA,” so he can help the morning show fend off “Today,” which has been gaining in the key ad demo.
If the deal is reached, it’s not clear how soon Elliott would return, but it could mean a reshuffling of talent on “GMA.” A source says executives at ABC News believe the current lineup of personalities — led by George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, along with Amy Robach, Ginger Zee and Lara Spencer — isn’t as gender-balanced as it once was, which is why they are open to bringing Elliott back.
Another source says NBC has an incentive to cut Elliott loose, because he’s an expensive talent who hasn’t been producing much early into his four-year contract.
The accounts of those anonymous sources are disputed, though. Mediaite’s Josh Feldman called the Variety piece “pretty much fiction” and said his own ABC sources have shot down the idea:
We had heard this rumor weeks ago, investigated, and were and are assured by very reliable sources that it’s “categorically untrue.” ABC insiders say the show neither wants nor feels they need Elliott.
Not only do our sources say it’s not true that he is returning, it’s also completely untrue that he or his representatives have even had any conversations with relevant executives at ABC about coming back.
The speculation is that Elliott is trying to boost his value at NBC after Horowitz’ departure, and apparently a number of other media outlets were pitched this spin before Variety bit.
An ABC spokesman tells Mediaite, “The rumormongering is ridiculous. None of this is true. We have the best on-air team in the business. We’re all good.” Unlike much of the PR spin we receive, this statement is actually true.
And Elliott’s publicist called Variety‘s report of negotiations “categorically false”:
“Josh is under contract with NBC Sports, and the claim that either he or his agents have had any negotiations with NBC about leaving or with ABC about returning is categorically false,” said Elliott’s publicist Matt Hiltzik, adding that his client hadn’t met with the president of Disney/ABC Television Group. “Josh and Ben Sherwood have not spoken or met since Josh left ABC.”
The specifics in Hiltzik’s statement are interesting, though. What exactly counts as “negotiations,” and who exactly counts as “his agents”? Also, “spoken or met” wouldn’t appear to cover other means of communication, such as texts (which Variety says Elliott has been exchanging with Sherwood) or e-mails. This might mean that there are in fact no discussions about an Elliott return to ABC, but it might mean that those discussions are just going on in a little bit of a different fashion. Emily Smith of The New York Post has more on that front:
A source said, “There’s speculation Josh could go back to ABC because NBC doesn’t seem to be using him. He’s being paid $5 million a year to do basically nothing. He is represented by CAA, and agents not formally representing him but advocating on his behalf, have had exploratory conversations with ABC.”
Another added, “Josh burned a lot of bridges when he left ABC. Why would they take him back? But others at ABC believe he could help in the ratings war with ‘Today.’ ”
It certainly isn’t clear that there’s anything to these rumors, but it’s interesting to see Elliott’s contract situation discussed so much with two and a half years left on his deal. While he has done a lot of good work with NBC on features and special events, many figured he’d play a bigger role. The departure of Jamie Horowitz (the former ESPN exec who briefly took over “Today”, was fired, and now has landed at Fox Sports) may be part of that, as Variety writes Elliott “had tethered his career” to Horowitz, but it’s still interesting that NBC hasn’t found more ways to utilize Elliott to date. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s headed out at all, much less back to ABC, but it does mean we’re likely to see plenty more speculation about him (at the very least) in the weeks and months to come.