Good Morning America
may have swallowed more than it could chew in the Great Hiccup Booking War, ABC says.
In an unusual move, the network says it may have gone too far in trying to land a sit-down with Jennifer Mee, a 15-year-old high school freshman from St. Petersburg, Fla., who hasn't stopped hiccuping for more than four weeks.
Still with us? Take a breath.
Booked for NBC's Today last Friday, Mee and her mother were flown to New York Thursday. Her appearance elicited such a huge response from viewers, she agreed to return to the show Monday.
But over the weekend, GMA bookers went into overdrive in an attempt to wrangle Mee for themselves. NBC moved her and her mom, Rachel Robidoux, to another hotel. It didn't help.
GMA reps called Mee 57 times (home, hotel and cell phone) Sunday and slipped notes under her door, her family told the St. Petersburg Times. No go. Mee, as promised, did Today Monday, then flew home.
ABC's Jeffrey Schneider says 57 "is a bit of an exaggeration." Still, he acknowledges that a new GMA booker "was quite aggressive in calling. I think the number of calls strikes everybody as being a lot."
As for the notes under Mee's hotel room door, "I'll take the family at their word," Schneider says.
"We went to the media for one reason only," said Mee's stepfather, Chris Robidoux, "But now I just feel like she is being used."
It's more than words between GMA and Today. It's blood rivalry. Even when the prize is a teenager with hiccups.
Today, with Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, has dominated the morning Nielsen wars for 11-plus years. GMA, anchored by Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts, is a perpetual No. 2.
"It's a very competitive landscape, and we're very competitive," says ABC's Schneider. "Obviously, we want to have people work for us who want to get the story, but you have to balance that with not going too far."
To Today boss Jim Bell, it was business as usual for ABC.
"I'm not surprised. These are the people who had a company jet fly the Michael Jackson jurors to New York the day after the trial. There's a certain pattern of behavior there."
The reaction to Mee Friday "was amazing and immediate, and it continues to come in," Bell says. "I haven't seen anything like it in my tenure."
Today has logged more than 10,000 e-mails - all offering cures for hiccups, according to Bell. Suggestions range from sucking limes to standing on your head and plugging your ears, he says.
"This kind of story cuts across age, gender, geography. Everybody gets hiccups. Everybody has a cure for hiccups. Everybody wants to help this girl. I had the hiccups for 15 minutes once and I freaked."
Today picked up the whole tab for Mee's first-ever visit to New York, including $65 for a manicure and $257 for a load of laundry at the hotel, Robidoux told the St. Pete Times.
"If you're flying in for a day or two and it ends up being four days, it helps to have clean clothes," Bell says. Today was "clearly within" NBC's guidelines for expenses in such situations.
Ironically, Mee was an easy booking for Today, says Bell. "We read about it and made a call. It seemed like an interesting story."
It was the aftermath that got messy.
"In the booking wars, there are things done that cross the line," Bell says. "We feel like we know where our line is, and we don't cross it."
Cross this, Jimbo. Punishment for the GMA booker will be "making her watch 57 minutes of the Today show," Schneider says.
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