Josh Elliott in talks to return to 'Good Morning America' (EXCLUSIVE)

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Why Josh Elliott Left 'GMA' for NBC Sports

By: VARIETY

Nearly 18 months after leaving ABC News for NBC Sports, Josh Elliott is in talks to return to his old job as the news reader on "Good Morning America," Variety has learned.

According to two people with knowledge of the situation, ABC executives are potentially open to a plan to buy Elliott out of his $4 million-a-year contract at NBC, and put him back on "GMA," so he can help the morning show fend off "Today," which has been gaining in the key ad demo.

If the deal is reached, it's not clear how soon Elliott would return. But it could mean a reshuffling of talent on "GMA." A source says that executives at ABC News believe that the current lineup of personalities—led by George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, along with Amy Robach, Ginger Zee and Lara Spencer—isn't as gender-balanced as it once was, which is why they are open to bringing Elliott back.

Another source says that NBC has an incentive to cut Elliott loose, because he's an expensive talent that hasn't been producing much early into his four-year contract.

ABC denies that Elliot is returning to "GMA," as does Elliott's rep. "The rumormongering is ridiculous," said a spokesperson for the network. "None of this is true. We have the best on-air team in the business. We're all good."

A rep for NBC Sports declined to comment.

At NBC, Elliot had tethered his career to Jamie Horowitz, the one-time ESPN executive who came aboard to supervise NBC's "Today." Horowitz was pushed out in November just 10 weeks after starting on efforts to revamp the morning program. Elliott went to NBC with the impression that he'd be the heir-apparent to either "Today's" Matt Lauer or Bob Costas at NBC Sports. Lauer signed a new contract in 2014, and Costas' position at NBC Sports seems entrenched. Meantime, the current producing staff at "Today" isn't using Elliott, apparently in a bid to keep him separate from Lauer.

Elliott was part of the team that helped "GMA" topple "Today" from first place in the morning in 2012. But when it came time to renew his contract in April 2014, Elliott clashed with his friend and mentor Ben Sherwood, the president of Disney ABC/Television Group, who was then head of ABC News.

According to sources, Elliott believed that Sherwood was taking too much credit for his career, and frequently trash-talked his boss in meetings.

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Josh Elliott in talks to return to 'Good Morning America' (EXCLUSIVE)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 01: Master of Ceremonies Liz Cho speaks during the Grand Central Terminal 100th Anniversary Celebration at Grand Central Terminal on February 1, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: (L-R) Josh Elliott, Jonathan Tisch, Liz Cho and Sam Champion attend the CAA News Emmy Party 2014 on September 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for CAA)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: News anchor Liz Cho attends the 'Arthur Christmas' premiere at the Clearview Chelsea Cinemas on November 13, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Nicole Curtis offers some home improvement tips on 'Good Morning America,' 2/13/14, on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Fred Lee/ABC via Getty Images) JOSH ELLIOTT, NICOLE CURTIS
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: TV Anchor Liz Cho attends the New York Moves Magazine's 10th Anniversary Power Women Gala at the Grand Hyatt New York on November 14, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
This image released by ABC shows "Good Morning America" co-host Robin Roberts, left, and co-host Josh Elliott on the popular morning show on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 in New York. Roberts has said goodbye to "Good Morning America," but only for a while. The "GMA" anchor made her final appearance Thursday before going on medical leave for a bone marrow transplant. Roberts' departure was first planned for Friday, but she chose to exit a day early to visit her ailing mother in Mississippi. In July she first disclosed that she has MDS, a blood and bone marrow disease. She will be hospitalized next week to prepare for the transplant. The donor will be her older sister, Sally-Ann Roberts. (AP Photo/ABC, Fred Lee)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 09: Liz Cho attends the 'Argo' screening at the Time Warner Screening Room on October 9, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - The Super Bowl Boulevard Blowout festivities continue all week on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, 1/31/14, airing on the ABC Television Network. It's not the Lombardi Trophy, but Josh Elliott presents NFL great Joe Montana an award for winning the GMA Football Food Fight. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) JOSH ELLIOTT, JOE MONTANA
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Wolfgang Puck shares recipes on 'Good Morning America,' 11/13/13, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) JOSH ELLIOTT, WOLFGANG PUCK
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When contract negotiations became terse, Elliott was so eager to get away from ABC that he took a job from NBC Sports that was less than Sherwood's offer ($5 million). The day that Elliott decided to leave ABC, Sherwood sent out a company-wide email blasting his former hire. "In good faith, we worked hard to close a significant gap between our generous offer and his expectations," Sherwood wrote. Elliott never returned to "GMA" and said good-bye to the show on Twitter.

Insiders say that tempers have since cooled on both sides. Network executives are aware that "GMA" has struggled to fight off "Today" after losing the talent that helped make it the No. 1 show on TV, as both Elliott and weatherman Sam Champion exited the show at around the same time in 2014. And by many accounts, Elliott has been unhappy at NBC.

According to sources, Elliott has recently started to mend fences with Sherwood, and the two have been exchanging texts. At the same time, he can't be caught having official talks with ABC, as it could potentially be a breach of his contract with NBC.

This isn't the first time the parent companies of ABC and NBC have traded talent among their news divisions. Last year, Disney let Horowitz out of his contract early in exchange for a release of "The Rachel Maddow Show's" Bill Wolff, who is now the executive producer of "The View." But that trade didn't turn out so well: Horowitz did not mesh well with "Today" staffers and NBC News executives, and Wolff has overseen the "The View" during a ratings collapse this season.

Brian Steinberg contributed to this story.

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