Good Morning America hit up Discovery Green. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Walt Disney Television)
Michael Strahan is a Houston treasure. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Walt Disney Television)
Twelve-year-old Matthew Reel was honored by Mayor Sylvester Turner. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Walt Disney Television)
Strahan tested out serious barbecue with his mom. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Walt Disney Television)
The mighty Oliver was a hit. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Walt Disney Television)
It was hours before dawn, and the people were getting restless. They gathered in Discovery Green with their sparkly and spangled Good Morning America signs. Shouts and screams rose and fell with every near-sighting — and not-so-near sighting.
The filming for the popular morning show was all set up, with mics and cameras and booms all around. But the desk at the center, surrounded by white chairs, sat empty.
So, why the crowd at 4:30 am?
“We came to see Michael Strahan,” Carolyn Hunter laughs. “He’s from Houston, come on now!”
It was still over an hour yet before the gargantuan, gap-toothed goofball would make his Space City appearance, alongside his Good Morning America co-anchor, bubbly blonde Lara Spencer, and chief meteorologist Ginger Zee.
The tantalizing trio made the trek to The Bayou City this Wednesday as part of the GMA Summer Road Trip series.
While every live filming pitstop has been a rousing success, this one held a special place in Strahan’s heart.
The New York Giants defensive end and Super Bowl XLII champion hails from Houston. Strahan didn’t play football at Westbury High School until his senior year, since his family moved to an army post in West Germany during his early schooling. But he played linebacker for the Manheim Bison.
As soon as he returned to the Cultural Capital of the South, Strahan wowed at Westbury High School, and that one season was enough to earn him a scholarship from Texas Southern University.
And TSU came out in full support this Wednesday morning in Houston, from the football players in their maroon and gray jerseys, to the cheerleaders posted up on their shoulders and waving their pom-poms like there was no tomorrow long before the filming kicked off.
The college students weren’t the only ones bring H-Town spirit. The Houston Texans Cheerleaders strutted down the Discovery Green walk along The Grove, their red Nike backpacks bouncing and red shiny boots clacking.
The Good Morning America crew hyped up the crowd, which lined three different parts of the set-up, asking them to scream.
“What did you all come out here to see?”
“Michael!” was the overwhelming response, even if “GMA” was the desired chorus.
“I got up at 2:30. I didn’t want to be late, I didn’t want to miss it. I’m just excited to be out here among the people. I’m excited that they brought GMA to Houston,” Tonya Hutchinson tells PaperCity.
She was one of the hundreds upon hundreds, mainly decked out in T-shirts, shorts and sensible sneakers. But there was the occasional dolled-up woman wearing heels that would prove uncomfortable in the intervening hours — so uncomfortable, some even came off.
It was a mix of all ages, from teens to adults. “Somebody’s gonna hyperventilate from the adrenaline,” someone laughed, wiping sweat from their brow. “I can see an ambulance over there,” someone else laughed.
Some senior citizens even showed up, despite their stature limiting their view. “I’m gonna find me a man to get on his neck,” an older lady laughed, pointing to the TSU cheerleaders. “l don’t care right now. Sir, can I get on your neck so I can see? Let me get on your neck!”
The blue and white Good Morning America bus pulled up, but no one got off quite yet.
Suddenly, Michael Strahan, decked out in a salmon-colored polo and jeans, Zee in a sharp white racerback shirt and navy Bermuda shorts that were honestly kind of stylish, and Spencer, in a pink top and white jean skirt, called out “Good morning, Houston!”
Strahan hopped up into the bus for a photo opp, pretending to drive.
Meanwhile, the competing barbecue maestros set up their tables. Good Morning America planned to pit the local pitmasters against each other, from Pizzatola Barbecue to SouthernQ BBQ and Catering.
In fact, one fired up the smoker at 5:48. The delicious scent of carnivore’s dream come true wafted over the gathered crowd. It was almost taunting to the fans, many of whom had foregone breakfast and were joking that the cast should hand out kolaches.
Strahan and Zee made the rounds, high-fiving, smiling, hugging and taking selfies with the crowd pressed as close as possible against the barriers. Strahan lingered longest at the TSU set-up, grinning at his cohorts.
He was a pro at taking selfies, thanks in no small part to his towering height. Then, he headed to the Lake House restaurant to prep.
Signs like “GMA or Bust!” “Santa Fe Strong” and “HOWDY, Y’ALL” peppered the crowd.
The Strahan Show
“It’s five minutes from live shot,” a man with a mic called as Old Town Road poured out over the speakers. “Three minutes out!”
Then, it switched to ABC news, with sound bytes about two Great White Sharks interacting off the coast of Cape Cod, and the disaster that is Jeffrey Epstein.
The haze of smoke swirled around as two people waved paper masks of Strahan’s face. The corn hit the smoker, and Spencer sprinted across the set in impressively high taupe mules.
“It’s a little bit hot here in Texas! It’s only in the 70s now, but it’ll be in the 90s later,” Zee laughed.
“To the people of Houston, this is nothing!” Strahan quipped.
The trio took their seats, sipping water and laughing like old friends. A special guest appeared — none other than Louise Strahan, the host’s charming mother. Someone brought out her homemade chocolate cake and the hosts tucked in, ready for some of mom’s sweets even that early in the morning.
Good Morning America shifted quickly to GMA Steals & Deals.
But then, the second guest of the morning arrived just off to the side of the set, getting ready for his close-up.
It was an unbelievably massive, viral sensation named Oliver. Exciting, right? Especially when you consider the beast is a hulking, long-horned African Watusi steer. Does it get more Texas than that?
Spencer couldn’t resist petting him before she was hissed at to go sit at the desk, as the commercial break was almost over.
The sun rose. “We allow all animals on leashes on our set. Come on up, Oliver!” Spencer shouted. Oliver and his handler approached the camera, and Strahan couldn’t resist stroking the whopping 14-year-old bull by the horns.
It was time for another stunning guest. This time, Houston’s very own Mayor Sylvester Turner and the pink-haired 12-year-old Matthew Reel of Conroe, Texas.
The pint-sized Texan was honored for his community service, supplying three meals a day for 24 families every weekend of the school year.
Mayor Turner handed Reel a plaque. July 10th was officially “Matthew Reel Day.” Strahan grinned. “You have your own day? You have your own day? I don’t have my own day, man!”
It was a sweet moment showcasing just how kind-hearted the Lone Star State can be, even down to its youngest members.
Then, it was time for the final segment — the long-awaited barbecue competition. “Let’s nail this, Pizzatolis!” Spencer urged on the barbecue contenders.
It was clear the crowd wasn’t alone in exhaustion. Strahan yawned while the cameras weren’t rolling. “Oh, that looks good, look at that!” he said, checking out SouthernQ’s heaping baked potatoes.
His mom couldn’t resist. He piled toppings onto hers. “I’m putting everything on here. I like mine loaded. We’re gonna finish up this baked potato, throw a rib on top of it,” Strahan added.
The other team got their ribs out, plus their savory smoked sausage slaw. Only Mrs. Strahan could declare the winner.
“I don’t know!”
Strahan licked his fingers. “Mom, you’re gonna call it! Which one? Even though they’re both delicious. Both are good. We can only have one!”
Mrs. Strahan laughed. “SouthernQ!”
The cast was all smiles as the camera rolled for the last time Wednesday morning. Spencer snuck bag to snag a rib and pick the meat off the bones.
It was time for goodbye. The cast did another run at their greetings, high-fiving and snapping photos. But Strahan had a flight to catch, so there was no more reason to stay.
That’s one way to say Good Morning Houston.