To no one’s surprise, “GMA Day” co-host Sara Haines is plenty comfortable in front of the camera. At our photo shoot, she switches poses at impressive speeds, alternating high-style smizes with goofy pouts. It’s a perfect encapsulation of her personality—the bubbly powerhouse is just as excited on-screen as off, and she’s equally comfortable in shimmering gold platforms as she is in plain white sneakers; equally liable to pose with a modelesque over-the-shoulder look or wrap her arms and legs around a stool like a sloth, laughing hysterically.
“I think every little girl specifically dreams of a time when you can get all dressed up and pretend you’re modeling or playing, and that photo shoot feels like the adult version—and much more high-class than what I was doing when I was 14,” Haines, 41, laughs. “It’s so cool to have professional people make you up and help you with your clothes, and all you do is show up and play to music. Just another day at the J-O-B.”
A mom-of-two, Haines kicked off her broadcast career on “TODAY” (where she started as a production coordinator before hopping in front of the camera, often alongside Kathy Lee and Hoda for their wine-happy fourth hour), moved on to “Good Morning America” as an ABC News correspondent, and, in recent years, sat among the famed lady-boss crew at “The View.” She’s now returned to “Good Morning America” with “GMA Day,” a brand-new program in the show’s third hour, which she co-hosts alongside morning show vet (and fellow NYC parent) Michael Strahan.
“It has the foundational kind of thread of ‘GMA,’ that brand that we already know worked, but we’re adding our stamp on it, and making it different,” she says. “It’s a challenge and it’s rewarding—there are days you go home and you’re like: ‘Did any of that make sense? When I was pitching those ideas, was that even in the right vein?’ So it’s challenging…you cannot just show up, this is an all-hands-on-deck type of operation—and it’s young, it’s new, so you have to prove yourself.”
Not that Haines really needs to prove anything. Born in Iowa, Haines attended Smith College and earned a BA in government. She kicked off her career in the illustrious NBC Page Program and has only climbed higher up the ladder since. A beloved television personality, her last few years have been marked with accomplishments.
She once said in an interview that her dream job would be hosting a two-person show, and right behind that, sitting around the table at “The View.” Now, she’s done both. And she seems humbled by her own success: She’s still in disbelief that she sat at “The View’s” iconic table—all that could’ve pulled her away from the program was, well, a two-person show like “GMA Day.” So when the offer came in, she had to grab it.
“I feel like my cup runneth so far over,” Haines says. “At this point, my cup seems like a little Dixie cup with friggin’ Niagara Falls flowing through it.” She adds with a laugh: “In retrospect, [a friend of mine said]: ‘You really put that out in the universe and then got it,’ and I was like: ‘No, I just pretty much put it out there like a balloon. Sometimes they don’t come back.’”
This easygoing charm makes it clear that Haines isn’t playing a character on-screen—she’s fun regardless.
On “The View,” her experience was different than it is on “GMA Day”—she’d go home and do “homework,” which entailed researching positions so she could be informed for the next day’s oft-political debate. She loved the challenge. “I had to work more for ‘The View,’ because to sit at that table, you’ve got to be ready to know the topic you’re talking about. You have to know where you sit in your opinion and then how to back that up. That was work, that was homework, and I loved it,” she says, adding that it “grew [her] in different ways.”
“I was at a table of strong women who inspired me every day, who taught me every day, and I just felt humbled to be sitting—I was flanked by Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar!” she says. “There wasn’t a day that was lost on me, and to look across that table, from the guests we had to the visiting co-hosts, that is an awe-inspiring show.”
“[At ‘GMA Day’] I’m sitting in a place where my silly isn’t distracting from the conversation every minute,” she says. “I get to play a little bit more—in a time right now where so much is dominated by news, this is a show where you can just check out for a little bit if you want to play or have fun, laugh—you’ll learn something, but you’ll definitely be smiling the whole time.”
Her relationship with Strahan also amplifies the experience: They keep each other laughing. “You know when people are just easy?” Haines asks. “Michael is somebody who could be friends with a wall, and the wall would be entertained. He is just easy.” She adds that she, Strahan, and Amy Robach—an anchor on ABC’s “20/20” and a longtime friend of Haines’ from their time together at “TODAY”—all gather to watch new horror movies—even though Strahan’s not too fond of them. Though they’ve only been co-hosts for a couple of months—the show debuted on September 10—in a TV Guide “He Said, She Said,” you’d never guess: Their answers, delivered separately, were exactly the same.
“I don’t know if I could even do that well with my husband!” Haines laughs. “We literally have the same answers. So it’s that kind of friendship, where you couldn’t visually see two more different people and our backgrounds are worlds apart, yet we get each other on a level that just feels comfortable and familiar and lovely.”
The Brooklyn-based mama often brings her TV family and real-life family—husband Max, 2.5-year-old son Alec, and 10-month-old daughter Sandra—together, even though Alec can’t really grasp just what his mom does when she’s at work.
“Max taught him how to say ‘Michael Strahan’ because [my family] came [to the set] for my birthday, so whenever he’s like,” she pauses to imitate her son’s voice: “‘Mama go to work? Mama go to work with Michael Strahan. Mama wears a small hat.’” She laughs, explaining that “on my birthday I had a [tiny] crown…and now Alec thinks that’s what I wear to work every day.”
They don’t let him have screen time just yet either, but sometimes he’ll surprise Haines with a bit of knowledge. “One day, Alec’s playing with my phone—which we don’t let him do, but he’d grabbed it—and he goes ‘Oopy! Oopy!’ and I go, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he shows me a picture and it’s Whoopi,” she says. “I was like: ‘That is Whoopi’ and he’s like: ‘Oopy!’ And I was like, how? …He had met Whoopi one time when he said that.”
But as much as she enjoys the happy occasions when her career and her family life can overlap, Haines makes no secret that she feels strongly about putting her children and husband first. “If the balance tips one way or the other, it always has to tip to family,” she explains, noting that it’s essential for her to strike a meaningful work-life balance; her time home is her own, and barring emergencies, her time at work is focused on work. “I’ve learned how to have some boundaries, because I think when I’m here, aside from concerns or emergencies, I need to be here. I know I have so many perks with getting home at a decent time and other things…I may spend time looking at pictures sometimes because [my kids are] so cute, but other than that I try to really be present so I can tell everyone: ‘Hey, when I go home, I will get back to you, but I’m mom-ing first.’”
It’s like when she sends work emails at odd hours because her kids have kept—or woken—her up. “‘Up with a child’—that’s how you start any email,” Haines laughs. “Alec was up a couple weeks ago in the middle of the night and I wrote one of my bosses [at 3:30am]… I’ll get back, it might just be a really funky, weird time. But nothing we’re doing here in the scheme of things—we make people laugh and that’s amazing, but we’re not curing cancer—there’s nothing anyone needs from me at any time nor can I provide for them that is that life-altering.”
And a great time to focus on family? The holidays. Haines makes her annual New Year’s resolution to be there for her kids. Even before the year’s end, the Haines family sure does love the holiday season.
“We have so many traditions; it all starts on Christmas Eve. We eat lobster every year, always have. My dad still reads The Night Before Christmas, and it’s not to the offspring of us, it’s to his original four—with those little kids if they’d like to show up and listen: But my dad has this beautiful bellowing voice, we listen to it every year,” she says. “Then we wake up in the morning, we always have Bloody Marys and omelets—the kids have the virgin Bloody Marys. And then we open gifts slowly cause we’re at the ages where it’s not really about the gifts, it’s about the company.”
What else? Her family will watch “A Christmas Story”—at least once, Haines says—take long walks, eat cookies, and more. “We depend on it,” she says. “There’s a comfort as we grow older and life scares you and takes you into unfamiliar territory where, when you know what to expect, it can be the most comforting thing. These things are very simple but we know what’s coming and that’s what Christmas is to us.”
They’re known around her parents’ town in Florida for their love of holiday PJs: “We add flair to any event,” she laughs. A holiday party? You’ll be able to spot the family by their “ho-ho” pants.
But Haines is adept at balancing the silly and serious in life: After all, it’s family first, work second, and she rockets between goofing off on TV and planning for the future of “GMA Day.”
She has a sincere vision for the show—for her, it’s all about keeping viewers laughing and finding the humor in life’s toughest circumstances. “Ricky Gervais once said: ‘laughter is my armor,’ and I thought, you know, in any life situation, life is going happen—bad things, good things are going to happen. If you can laugh through it all, that is one guaranteed medicine,” she says. “The greatest responsibility I have and the greatest joy I have is when someone says: ‘Oh my gosh, I spit out my coffee’ or—it doesn’t always have to be that aggressive—so many people will write ‘I was at home’ or ‘my mom’s sick and I watched you and you made me laugh’ and that makes me cry the best, most joyful, thankful tears to be able to be that to one person: It makes my whole world make sense.”
Of course, with a sentiment that is right in line with her warm, playful nature, she is quick to note that at the end of the day, it’s all about connecting with those around you. “I’ve always said you can do any job if you’re with the right people,” she says. “You could ask me to scrub the curbs of New York City; if I have people who add levity to my life, that can make me laugh, can listen to me, and also just have perspective on what matters in the world, I can do anything.”
To catch Sara Haines on “GMA Day,” tune in to ABC at 1pm, or visit abc.go.com!