Sam Champion was the longtime weather anchor on the Good Morning America team that conquered Today, ending the NBC program's 16-year run as ratings leader. He recently left his ABC morning family for The Weather Channel; starting Monday, March 17, he will anchor a morning program of his own, America's Morning Headquarters With Sam Champion (or AMHQ for short, weekdays 7am/6c). The Biz caught up with Champion as he prepared for the launch.
TV Guide Magazine: How will AMHQ be different from the established morning shows already out there?
Sam Champion: I think weather is primary. The news cycle is much shorter today than it's ever been. I don't want my morning show to waste my time with things I already know about. I'm hooked in with Twitter and Facebook — I know what happened yesterday. There is a lot of time in the morning where I'm told stuff that I already knew or that wasn't going to help me plan my day. And I'm waiting for information that will. My idea is to hit you with the information that you need to plan your day first and then fill in the headlines and information that you probably have some knowledge of.
TV Guide Magazine: Are we going to see actors stopping by or any of the other kind of guests we see on network morning shows?
Champion: If the cast of The Hunger Games is shooting in Atlanta and the audience tells me "we're interested in that" — sure, I can see someone stopping by in the studio and saying hi. But that's not our drive. The thing we can do that other morning shows can't do is we're live for three hours across the country. The first hour is getting the East Coast up and ready and out the door with weather stories and other information that targets them first. By the second hour we're getting to the middle of the country, so we're going to target you, Chicago, as you're planning your commute.
TV Guide Magazine: How does it feel working for the company partly owned by NBC after working so hard to beat them in the morning ratings?
Champion: I know the audience thinks that, and I know management thinks that way, but I honestly I have to tell you — I don't have enemies at NBC, CBS or The Weather Channel. Even though we're competing for the story, we're out there in the elements together. I'm standing beside Al Roker and Jim Cantore when out there on a live shot during a hurricane or a flood or whatever it is. If a satellite truck goes down, the first thing you do is offer yours. If someone doesn't have a light, we say, "Hey, we're not using this one — take it." Everybody understands how difficult it is to do live TV out in the field. I know that a lot of people see it as competition. If I'm doing the best job I can and it's good every day, people will find us. There was a new energy on GMA when Josh Elliott and Lara Spencer got to the program. All of a sudden everybody wanted to play. That's cyclical. Sometimes the audience wants a headline service. Sometimes what they want is that family feel where everybody gets along and can finish each other's sentences. That just happened with GMA and it's a rare thing.
TV Guide Magazine: How often are you going to pop up on Today?
Champion: I'm doing my show the same time Today is on. My focus will be my show. I can't be a regular presence. There's just no possible way.
TV Guide Magazine: Everything is cool with Al Roker?
Champion: Everything is great with Al. We've been friends for 25 years. I know his family. He knows my husband. There isn't that kind of competition, and I didn't leave Good Morning America to go to the Today show. I left GMA with one solid purpose and that was having the opportunity to build something new from the ground up in a place that is solely focused on weather.
TV Guide Magazine: A recent list of "Q" scores, an industry measure of on-air talent's viewer appeal, ranked you second among morning TV personalities just behind GMA's Robin Roberts. Why do you think viewers like you?
Champion: I honestly don't know. I've never been reflective. Now I'm hiring people and I'm looking inside them for what makes them great at what they do and what gives them that special energy that translates on camera. One of the things I discovered about me is that I over-achieved because I was fat, I was gay, and I was bullied as a kid. All my life I worked extra hard to have people see past what they saw on the outside. I like people, and I was a person who really wanted to be liked. That for me was a driving desire.
TV Guide Magazine: You're part of a wave of TV anchors who have publicly identified themselves as gay. It's a concept that wasn't even discussed in TV news circles even five years ago. Now the audience seems to have accepted it. How do you feel about that?
Champion: I don't think of it as being brave at this point of my career. I had a chance to prove to the viewers what I could do everyday. They got to know me in my professional life first. If they didn't like who I am in my personal life, they were able to put it in context of what I've done over 30 years. For anyone coming up in public life now, to have to take the topic on early in his or her career has to be a frightening thing. I was getting ready to get married. I wanted to talk about that. It was joyous to me. I never thought about talking about my personal life. I didn't do a show where I thought that mattered. But when you're getting ready to do something because you love someone, I think you want to talk about it. I wanted people to know why I was so happy. And I was lucky that I lived in a place like New York where I wasn't going to take a punch for it. But there are places across the country where you still will.