The Making of George Stephafluffulos

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 19 2010 9:48 AM

The Making of George Stephafluffulos

This week's New York Observer examines how George Stephanopoulos has been "adjusting to a life of fluff" since assuming a co-anchor spot on Good Morning America in mid-December. "From the get-go," writes reporter Felix Gillette, "various observers have questioned Mr. Stephanopoulos' suitability for the GMA job. Call it the reverse Katie Couric syndrome. As in, isn't he just a little too qualified for morning TV?"

Gillette leaves his readers to conclude that Stephanopoulos will not master the delivery of dumb news until he overcomes his ingrained circumspection and sheds some propriety. We are talking, after all, about an arena in which Couric once felt comfortable, if that's the right word, in submitting to an on-air colonoscopy for a good cause , yes, but c'mon, man, really? While I do not expect that Stephanopoulos will ever invite viewers into his small bowel, I must observe that he has made notable progress toward ceasing to be quite such an on-camera tight-ass.

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The early days were rough. On some mornings, Stephanopoulos just barely managed to feign interest in Emeril Lagasse's sauté pan; on others, his fake enthusiasm was all too blatant. During a holiday-shopping segment, a heedless G. Steph breezed incomprehensibly through the French-language title of a book about coquillages he was buying for himself. His Dec. 21 interview with Meryl Streep, who was promoting It's Complicated , turned into a minor farce. "What's complicated about your life, Meryl?" he asked, almost visibly straining. Well, her daughter was about to get married, she answered, careful to state that her future son-in-law, " Ben ," was a lovely guy. " Ben Harper! " said George, as if buzzing in on a quiz show. "No," said Meryl, confused and amused. "But he's also nice!"

He could only go up from there, and he did, much helped along by his wife, actress Ali Wentworth, who began popping in on a semi-regular basis. She de-wonkified her husband, as it were, by sprinkling the scene with her daffy screwball-dame charm. I don't remember whether she was referring to her dog's house training or her daughters' potty training when delivering one classic line about home life with George: "When we wake up in the morning, we're usually covered in pee and we don't know whose it is."

By early January, he was feeling relaxed enough to put his foot up on GMA 's coffee table. Instead of struggling to shine with enthusiasm about every dental-care tidbit and dopey romantic comedy, he began allowing himself to be merely curious about them becoming more authentic and appealing. I'd like to think that the real breakthrough came when the Project Runway gang dropped in on Jan. 13, and George repeated Tim Gunn's catchphrase with a full throat: "Make it work!"

Going forward, GMA needs to give Stephanopoulos as many opportunities as possible to talk about his kids. Why? Because it is cute. "You've got something over here that my daughter Ellie is gonna love," he beamed during a January gadget demo. "She loves to take her temperature!" Then, demonstrating a forehead-scan thermometer, George took his own 97.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Indeed, Stephanopoulos still runs just a little bit too cool to serve morning fluff at its proper consistency, but he is steadily warming to the task.

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Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.