The first news assignment Amy Robach received for the University of Georgia TV newscast nearly three decades ago was a difficult one: speak to the family of a student who had overdosed on the drug ecstasy and died.
When Robach arrived at the student’s home, her father was outside placing his daughter’s things into a pick-up truck. “I started to panic,” Robach said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was scary.” She introduced herself and said she wanted to tell his daughter’s story in hopes it will keep others from making the same mistake.
“I remember the weight and responsibility and honor of telling her story,” she said. “He trusted me to tell this incredible story that could change people’s lives.”
From that day forward, storytelling became Robach’s calling. In recent years, as a host of “20/20,” she has landed interviews with everyone from Joe Biden’s son Hunter to Tonya Harding to Monica Lewinsky. A year ago, she landed a second job: hosting duties for “GMA3: What You Need to Know,” an hourlong news program airing on ABC affiliates, including WSB-TV in Atlanta weekdays at 1 p.m.
“GMA3″ was created in just 48 hours as the pandemic was enveloping the world a year ago. Executives dumped the previous show “GMA: Strahan, Sara & Keke” and plucked Robach and ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jen Ashton to lead an hour focused exclusively on the coronavirus.
Robach, 48, said considering how quickly it all came together, she is thrilled ABC was able to make it work and generate decent ratings as well.
“That passion I felt on that very first story at UGA is the passion I feel every day at GMA3,” she said. “It’s absolutely my dream job. I’ve always wanted to do something to inform and inspire, and that’s what this show lets us do.”
On-air last week from ABC’s Times Square studios in Manhattan during the one-year anniversary of the show’s creation, she credited Ashton for helping Robach get through some of the pandemic’s “toughest and darkest days.”
Ashton, who joined ABC News in 2012 and is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, admires Robach’s “massive range,” enabling her to easily pivot from serious to lighthearted. She also appreciates that Robach is not packed with so much ego that she will talk “just to hear herself talk.” At the same time, Robach “always gets to the heart and mind of anyone she is speaking within the most expeditious way possible.”
Former CNN anchor T.J. Holmes, 43, joined the crew in September as the show expanded its focus to include other topics as well. “He just lightened up the whole mood and brought a much-needed tonal change to where our show is heading now,” Robach said on-air.
Holmes has been friends with Robach for many years. He said they took similar career paths and considers her “my co-hosting soulmate.”
“We can both appreciate where we are and what it took to get here,” he said. “We don’t take it for granted.”
Fans of the show on Facebook laud the chemistry of the hosts. “Love how they banter back and forth!” wrote Corinne March Waldman. “No fakeness.”
Robach was born in Michigan and spent some of her early years in St. Louis before moving to Snellville at age 13 in the 1980s when the town was still surrounded by cow pastures. She grew up as an ABC kid at heart, watching “Good Morning America” with Charlie Gibson and Joan Lunden before school, “General Hospital” during the afternoon and “World News Tonight” hosted by Peter Jennings in the evening.
At Brookwood High School, she caught the acting bug from her aunt and uncle, who were theater directors there and landed a lead role in “Frankenstein” her senior year. For a time at UGA, she considered acting as a career, but she also loved writing, so journalism became a more viable route.
After UGA, her broadcasting path led her through Charleston, South Carolina, Washington D.C., MSNBC, then nine years at “The Today Show,” mostly weekends. She was up for a full-time hosting job on the weekday show in 2012, but Savannah Guthrie got the gig.
“I felt like I had gone as far as I could at NBC,” Robach said. “I hit a wall.” So she moved to ABC News in 2012, covering breaking news for “Good Morning America.”
Jumping from “Today” to rival “GMA” was a big deal, she said. “At first, I felt like I had crossed enemy lines. I was Benedict Arnold. It felt so strange. I eventually got used to it.”
In 2013, “GMA” host Robin Roberts, whose early career passed through Atlanta, convinced Robach to get a mammogram live on TV to encourage female viewers to do so. Public service morphed quickly into reality: Robach found out she had stage 2 invasive breast cancer.
“It was an out-of-body experience,” she recently told the syndicated show “The Doctors.” “I was seeing everything in slow motion. I was sobbing. I absolutely lost it... They had to call in a therapist to calm me down... It didn’t seem possible to me. I thought I was taking care of myself. I didn’t think cancer could happen to me.”
She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy and has been cancer-free for seven years.
The cancer also helped save her second marriage to actor Andrew Shue, best known for his time on “Melrose Place” in the 1990s, she told “The Doctors.”
“We were really struggling,” she said. “It is not easy to blend families... Through fighting for my life and having Andrew there with me for every single chemo appointment, holding my hand, we started learning how not to sweat the small stuff.”
“GMA3″ no longer focuses just on the pandemic, hitting on other health and lifestyle topics as well. Last Friday’s show, for instance, opened with coronavirus stats and an interview with the Arkansas governor about the vaccination rollout. But the hour also featured a children’s book inspired by a child with Down syndrome, a talk with a pastor for “Faith Friday” about defeating depression and advice from an author on how to rebuild friendships.
Robach said she hopes “GMA3″ will have legs, even after society goes back to normal.
The secondary title “What You Need To Know” won’t change because “we will always need to know something, and we will hopefully always be there with some understanding and perspective that you won’t find anywhere else,” she said.
“GMA3: What You Need To Know”
1 p.m. weekdays
WSB-TV and on Hulu
“20/20″ 9 p.m. Fridays WSB-TV and on Hulu