Decades of hosts return for ‘Good Morning America’ anniversary

"Good Morning America" alumni, from the left: Joan Lunden, Spencer Christian, David Hartman, Sam Champion, Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts and Charles Gibson (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) – ABC’s “Good Morning America” celebrated its 40th anniversary Thursday with a studio jammed with the men and women who hosted the wake-up broadcast through its long history.

“Every one of your favorite faces from ‘GMA’ is back,” host Robin Roberts told viewers at the top of the alumni-packed telecast.

Starting with original hosts David Hartman and Nancy Dussault, producers cleverly moved through the hosts chronologically as they raised coffee mugs and looked into the camera with the show’s signature greeting, “Good Morning, America!”

For many years the No. 2 morning show behind “Today” on NBC, “GMA” has been on top the past few years with current hosts Roberts and George Stephanopoulos, although its ratings have sagged a little this season.

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The hosts reminisced about times good and bad. Hartman remembered taking a trip to the Soviet Union with the show in the waning days of the Cold War and returning home to kiss the driveway in front of his house.

Charles Gibson recalled how he felt going to work on Sept. 12, 2001, following the terrorist attacks, knowing it would be the most important broadcast of his career. Seated beside then co-anchor Diane Sawyer watching long-ago coverage of those dreadful attacks on a monitor, the pair, unseen by viewers, clasped each other’s hands for support as their eyes welled.

Mostly, though, the show kept things light. A blooper reel revealed the viewers’ vote for the show’s funniest moment: when veteran host Joan Lunden showed a Vanna White doll where the dress had slipped a little too far down the plastic, with Gibson laughing as Lunden attempted a quick toy cover-up.

Kathie Lee Gifford, now a host on the rival “Today” show, recalled her time on “GMA” during the 1980s, including meeting future husband Frank Gifford backstage.

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“I’m walking down the hallway and I see the greatest pair of buns that I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said about the late football star and broadcaster.

A long line of former news anchors, weather forecasters and medical reporters all joined in the party, sitting in director’s chairs in the Times Square studio as cups of champagne awaited them for a post-broadcast toast.

And to make sure everyone knew it was a celebration, Pitbull was on hand performing his hit song “Don’t Stop the Party.”

“GMA” actually premiered on Nov. 3, 1975, as yet another morning show to challenge “Today,” which, for 20 years before that, had vanquished all comers on both ABC and CBS.

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Remarkably, “GMA” clicked with viewers.

Charter host Hartman premiered with “GMA” after a successful acting career that included 1970s dramas where he played a doctor (on “The Bold Ones”) and a teacher (“Lucas Tanner”). Both those series had a mission besides entertainment, he said – conveying useful information, which led to his seguing into medical documentaries and then an enthusiastic “yes” to ABC’s offer to host a brand-new morning show.

“It was 10 hours a week, live, to try to get information to people that they could use in some constructive way in their lives,” Hartman, now 80, recalled in an interview after the broadcast. “We did a very quiet program. We had quiet conversation. We didn’t want to hit them over the head at 7 o’clock in the morning.”

Hartman, who stayed with “GMA” until 1987, said he never missing acting: “My greatest comfort zone, working, was ‘GMA,'” he said.

“From the beginning, the show has had a unique spirit and a great sense of family,” said ABC News President James Goldston when asked why it caught on. “It’s always maintained that joy for life. What better way to wake up in the morning than with people who are thrilled to share what’s happening in the world with you? We’re very lucky to be able to do that.”

Associated Press Television Writer David Bauder contributed to this report.