By Julie Sagoskin
They might be the constant smiling faces trying to help you start your day off right, but the hosts of “GMA3: What You Need to Know”, which airs at 1pm ET as the third hour of Good Morning America, are also there for you when things get a bit more complicated.
Amy Robach, T.J. Holmes and Dr. Jennifer Ashton are a co-anchor match made in heaven. These three had known each other for years before being cast as the face of America’s fastest growing daytime program. From covering inaugurations and Super Bowls with T.J. to holding Dr. Ashton’s hand as she went in for a mammogram which ultimately wound up saving her life, Amy felt close to her co-hosts way before they all wound up working together on the third hour of GMA. “We were connected by covering stories and being a part of stories together and always saying to each other how great it would be to work with each other every day, and this feels like it all happened magically,” says Robach.
According to T.J., the show came about naturally on its own. “I had done segments over the years with Dr. Ashton who I would always seek out to ask for her expertise. We were collaborating almost every day before being on tv together. Robach and I have similar backgrounds and a respect for each other’s journeys. We really have an appreciation for where we are with this show. We could have plotted and planned for a possible show, but this one just happened, and it happened organically.”
“The three of us have been working and collaborating together on random segments for a while now,” explains Dr. Ashton. “When Amy would anchor GMA, we had a joke between us – we would just always say we felt like we were in a tennis match or doing a dance, and that we wish we could do it all the time. I can’t overstate the amount of respect and admiration I have for these guys and what they do on the air, especially when it comes to their range. It’s like watching the G.O.A.T. of athletes everyday do their thing. I learn so much from them.”
Before entertaining and enlightening America on the world’s most pressing issues, Amy and T.J. both started in local news. Amy, who graduated from the University of Georgia, wound up working in Charleston and D.C. She eventually found herself at MSNBC and NBC before joining the ABC family. T.J. similarly got his degree from the University of Arkansas and worked at CNN prior to joining ABC.
Unlike Amy and T.J., Dr. Ashton, the Chief Medical Correspondent of ABC News who regularly appears on GMA, never planned on going into broadcast journalism or medical media.
Instead, she says it just kind of fell on her when she started at Fox News Channel and then CBS. “I really discovered by a fluke, or serendipity, that I loved communication,” says this devoted doctor. “I realized that I love communicating medical information. I love medicine and talking about it. I just found it to be so rewarding and challenging and gratifying. I love that I get to learn or relearn something from medical school that I normally wouldn’t be dealing with on a daily basis. I feel that my role as a medical correspondent, which has since become the biggest part of my career, has made me a better practicing physician. At the same time, seeing patients about ten hours a week at my private practice has also made me better on the air.”
If you ask these three co-anchors what has made their show a success, they will have two words for you: trust and chemistry. “Trusting each other allows you to be your authentic and true self,” says T.J. “They will watch your back and won’t try to make you look bad or stupid. Even if you get poked, it’s not coming from a bad place. The show is easy. It’s an easy show to do when you can be that kind of comfortable. You can’t teach, coach or consultant it, it’s just there. We’re blessed and we know it.”
Their daytime show, ‘GMA3: What You Need to Know’, which launched a year ago, was taken to a whole new – and insightful level – with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. These three do more than report on the facts, but also bring a sense of compassion and comfort to their millions of viewers across the country. It also gave them a chance to come up with meaningful segments that they felt would resonate with the resounding fears, hopes and even triumphs throughout this turbulent year.
“Dr. Jen was there to guide everyone about what we knew or didn’t know and what we were all desperate to know,” explains Amy. “Our friends, family and viewers were all asking the same questions. It was a heavy, amazing and incredible responsibility. I felt like for the first time in my life, I was the journalist I always thought I was going to be. Now I actually give people lifesaving information. There was a real fear and anxiety and feeling of helplessness that everyone was going through. We were trying to come up with segments on how everyone was feeling and how we could help people or be inspired by others of all ages and faiths. We eventually came up with our ‘Faith Friday’ segment, and it really lifted and buoyed me up personally. Listening to these incredible words of wisdom from faith leaders we might not have had access to before, and hearing their thoughtful advice, is something we have carried through to present day, and it’s our favorite thing that we do. The inspiration that we have been able to provide on our show about being better and doing better enables us to give people back some of that power and hope and control. We might not be able to control what’s happening around us, but we can control how we treat others and react to it. It’s a big source of pride for me that we not only inform people, but inspire and help them to be better and feel better.”
“We have covered so much on the pandemic in such a deep way, and it all goes back to mutual trust and the respect that we have for each other, as well as the fact that Amy and T.J. have such a legitimate passion for medicine and the science of this pandemic,” says Dr. Jen. “Amy and I have been doing stuff on nutrition and fitness and cancer for ten years. T.J. would always reach out to me to help him understand how to best deliver the facts on the air. Both T.J. and Amy ask real questions, they’re not interested in a soundbite. I give real answers which I would give to my patients while also keeping my finger on the pulse of what’s coming out of the CDC, medical journals, etc. This is really the sweet spot. We’re dealing with such an evolving and complex question – you have to be practical but give real guidelines, and we’ve tried to do just that.”
Dr. Jen’s favorite parts of the show, her two segments that she does with Amy and T.J., are also the show’s best kept secrets – her co-anchors never know what she’s going to talk about live on the air until just seconds beforehand.
“This is literally unheard of in the world of live television, but Amy and T.J. don’t know what I’m going to talk about until I actually start talking on camera! Amy and T.J., however, are just so real, smart, appropriate and authentic that they like the challenge. I believe this actually comes across even better to our viewers when they’re not prepped. Instead, they become like everyone else. This just reflects the trust that they and the producers have in me and the respect that they have for our viewers in that they want a real conversation. There is no such thing as a bad question. We’re a year into the pandemic and there has never been a bad question or bad comment. The fact that they are hearing topics for the first time just as our viewers hear them is unheard of. That’s just the way their brains work. I think it’s just so unique and it’s resonating with our viewers who we clearly admire and the trust they have in us to deliver information like that.”
Let’s just say that T.J. can repeat Dr. Jen’s lines by heart at this point! “What do variants do? They mutate for a living!” he says. Their personal and professional lives are so deeply intertwined that even their nutrition and wellness habits rub off on each other. Amy, an avid runner who has publicly battled cancer – she is currently training for the Berlin Marathon which is tentatively scheduled to take place later this year – got T.J. to run a 5K while he was on assignment on her 7-year cancer free anniversary. In case you were wondering, Amy was running a half marathon that day herself. According to Amy, who works out six days a week and is super into floor routines and low-carb keto diets, Dr. Jen has muscles like you wouldn’t believe. They are also all self-proclaimed intermittent fasters.
T.J. is even behind Dr. Jen’s latest healthy eating habit. “Amy and I would always talk about fitness and nutrition. I was a big proponent for keto eating, and we’ve done numerous segments on the science behind it, but T.J. is to blame for getting me completely plant based. I had always said no way would I do that! I have a lot of nut allergies and was scared that I would gain weight because of the carbs. T.J. had me watch documentaries and we conducted a little experiment. Now that I’m on it, my cholesterol has gone down and I’ve lost ten pounds.”
T.J. might have helped Dr. Jen get healthier, but he also credits his relationship with his co-anchors for his own fitness and food routines. “Robach has me running with purpose and I’m always talking to Dr. Ashton about nutrition. We are bringing something different to each other’s lives. I’m in better shape and better health because we’re having these constant conversations. One day we’ll release our commercial break talk!”
Amy’s devastating breast cancer diagnosis radically altered her fitness routine, as well as her overall outlook on life. “I always took for granted my health, but I ate horribly before cancer. I always worked out but not at the level that I do now. I’m a different person. I’m not just in better physical shape, but also in better spiritual and mental health as well. I think they all feed off of each other. In addition to the running, I have a group of friends who I have corralled into a fitness group. I even have run dates with my producer. I have a big hiking crew, too. I’m always looking for another mountain to climb. When you lose trust in your body or your body failed you, building back that trust and realizing how much stronger you are makes you feel like you’re in fight mode and ready to take on anything. The fear of reoccurrence always lives with you. Knowing that I am doing everything I can to live not just as long but as great as I can, is my main boost of motivation. I just feel blessed to be so strong.”
How does she balance work and family life? Well, according to Amy, her kids are teenagers now, so they don’t want to spend so much time with her these days anyway! Amy’s friends and family are just relieved that she is still with them. “Amy is so strong and energetic,” says T.J. “Things could have really gone the other way. We are sitting next to a little miracle every day. She lives her life in such a way that makes her an example for me and all of us to live by. If you need a hug, however, don’t call Robach! But, if you need a kick in the ass or to be picked up, she’ll give you a speech and get you back up again. She’ll say ‘why are you in a corner, T.J., get up!’ it’s just her personality. I get to witness that every day.”
Aside from her reporting for GMA, anchoring GMA3 as well as ABC’s News Magazine 20/20, and running marathons, when it comes to movies you should be watching, Amy has you covered. She somehow finds time to watch almost every show on every streaming platform and is always giving her co-anchors recommendations on what to watch next. Right now, she is adamant that you must watch “Your Honor” with Bryan Cranston. If you like the horror genre, “The Host” is at the top of her list. Filmed during the pandemic and focused on a Zoom call gone wrong, this one is certainly timely, even if T.J. has been too busy watching March Madness to check it out yet!
If you’ve ever wondered if they coordinate outfits, well, kind of. “T.J. will leave sticky notes on my mirror asking what are you wearing,” shares Amy. We do try to coordinate or not conflict with one another. Sometimes me and Jen see what each other are wearing on tv earlier and helps it a lot so that we don’t clash at all.”
These three dedicated anchors are there for you with the facts, while also being your friend. “It doesn’t matter how horrific or how big the news story is, you still can be a human being when you’re telling that story,” explains T.J. “We have case numbers going up every day, but you can say it in a certain way that conveys to the audience I’m sorry, but here is the news now, bring it in for a hug, and we’ll get through this together. That’s the tone of the show, and it’s not something you train for, it’s just who you are. I hope that’s something the audience feels.”
While we are all grappling with a new kind of New York at the moment, these daytime show sweethearts are always finding silver linings. For Amy, getting a reservation at hard to book restaurants has been her favorite part of a recovering city. She also isn’t complaining about the lack of traffic. “I can get to work in six minutes and there are clear running paths. I’m having a private experience with New York in a way I never could have imagined.”
“The pandemic made us all slow down a little bit. You look around and appreciate things you didn’t stop to appreciate before,” adds T.J.
One thing they don’t agree on? Sports! While Dr. Jen is a hockey lover and Amy is a football fan, T.J. can’t get them to watch March Madness. That’s all right, he’s still mad about his co-anchors, something which you can see for yourself every weekday on GMA3: What You Need To Know!
“GMA3: What You Need to Know” airs weekdays at 1pm ET on ABC.