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ABC Anchor Charlie Gibson to Step Down, Diane Sawyer to Replace Him

Howard Kurtz | The Washington Post via YellowBrix

September 02, 2009

Diane Sawyer will succeed her friend and former partner Charlie Gibson as the anchor of ABC’s “World News” in January, making her the second woman to assume the prestigious chair at a network newscast.

The move, announced Wednesday by ABC, will leave a sizable void at “Good Morning America,” where Sawyer’s star power will be hard to replace.

Gibson, who left “GMA” for the evening news anchor job in 2006, has had a solid run, winning critical praise and a solid second-place finish in the ratings race. But at 66, and with his wife Arlene having retired, Gibson approached ABC News President David Westin about two months ago and said he was strongly considering stepping down.

Westin never considered anyone but Sawyer for the broadcast, and when Gibson made his decision finally last week, he approached Sawyer, who had also been a contender for the anchor post in 2006 — the same year Katie Couric became the first female solo anchor, at CBS. Sawyer agreed to take the job Tuesday night.

“It has not been an easy decision to make,” Gibson told his staff in an e-mail. “This has been my professional home for almost 35 years. And I love this news department, and all who work in it, to the depths of my soul.”

Gibson had originally planned to retire in 2007, until he was tapped for the anchor job. “The program is now operating at a very accelerated, but steady, cruising speed,” he wrote, “and I think it is an opportune time for a transition — both for the broadcast and for me. Life is dynamic; it is not static.”

Sawyer, 63, is a journalist of unusual range, a former “60 Minutes” correspondent who appears equally at ease handling hard news and morning feature segments. She has interviewed every president since George H.W. Bush and has done documentaries on North Korea, women in Afghanistan and poverty in Appalachia. She has long coveted the anchor chair but encouraged Gibson to take the job after Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq and the network decided to replace his co-anchor, Elizabeth Vargas.

Sawyer and Gibson agreed to temporarily take over “GMA” in 1998, when the program was floundering, and wound up working together for nearly a decade. They last teamed up in hosting a forum on health care with President Obama at the White House.

ABC has four months to decide on a Sawyer replacement for its second-place morning show, co-hosted by Robin Roberts. The fundamental choice is whether to elevate Chris Cuomo, the program’s news anchor, who plays a key role as a field reporter, or bring in a big-name star from outside.

Since all the networks replaced their anchors, NBC’s Brian Williams has maintained the lead in the ratings for all but a short period when Gibson’s broadcast became No. 1, Couric has remained in third place.


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