Charlie Gibson’s leaving ABC News and the anchor chair. Diane Sawyer gets to sleep in and bring her talent and experience to the evening news.
I think you have to give ABC some credit — hopefully they’ve learned something since the agonizing experience of replacing Peter Jennings after his much-too-early passing. They knew they’d struck gold with Jennings the first time they made him anchor of the evening news back in 1965, He wasn’t quite ready at the time, but he certainly grew into the job. And while he was good by himself, I liked the 3-anchor set-up Roone Arledge used with Jennings, Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson. Of course, I would have been happy if Harry Reasoner had kept the anchor job at ABC.
After Jennings passed away, ABC made the mistake of bypassing Gibson and Sawyer, trying to protect the “Good Morning America” franchise and promoting the team of Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff. That experiment came to a sad end after Woodruff was seriously injured covering the fighting in Iraq. The suits decided that Vargas couldn’t carry a newscast on her own. There was talk at the time that both Gibson and Sawyer wanted the job. So, in the space of 3 or so years, they both get a shot.
I wonder whether there was some kind of an arrangement involved; I doubt anyone at ABC News would ever admit to that. Of course, going through 4 anchors in as many years is reminiscent of the old days of the division, when they shuttled through anchor after anchor, trying to find someone to hold their own against Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley.
There’s a lot to be said for having the opportunity to actually plan for changes, like NBC did with Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams. CBS couldn’t have been caught more flat-footed when it had to push Dan Rather out of the anchor chair.
Instead of just promoting John Roberts like they should have, they put Bob Schiffer in the job for a year, then make the big move of getting Katie Couric, who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since she’s been doing the news (true confession: I never watched her on “Today,” but I do watch her now. I’m just not a Williams or Gibson fan).
So I’m already seeing stories making the point that once the changeover at ABC takes place, 2 of the 3 nightly newscasts will have a solo female anchor. True, but does it really make a difference? Both Couric and Sawyer have legitimate hard news experience. Sawyer was a 60 Minutes correspondent and Couric’s first job at NBC was covering the State Department. Both spent a long time on morning shows (but so did Cronkite and Brokaw and Gibson).
Women have been regular anchors on local and cable newscasts for years. I’ve had the opportunity to write for a number of qualified and capable women who do very good work on the desk. There was a least one who was an untalented hack, but there are always exceptions and that’s just as true for men too.
So the 66-year-old Gibson will step down at the end of the year. He’s spent 35 years at ABC News — that’s a pretty good career in anybody’s book. And while Sawyer has deserved an opportunity like this for a long time, she’s 63 (hard to believe) — which makes me think there’s a good chance that the news division is going to have to go through this again in a few years.
Of course, that’s if there’s still network news in a few years. Many observers are convinced that if newscast viewership continues to decline, one of the three networks might just walk away from its evening newscast. Hard to imagine, but who thought newspapers would start fading the way they have?