February 1, 2006

Sawyer, Gibson to fill in on ABC evening news

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - ABC News is expected to
announce Wednesday that "Good Morning America" co-hosts Diane
Sawyer and Charles Gibson will fill in on "World News Tonight"
with Elizabeth Vargas as Bob Woodruff recovers from injuries
suffered in a bombing in Iraq.

Sources said Sawyer and Gibson would figure into the
initial plans for "World News Tonight," which ABC News recently
remade as a dynamic and extended commitment to a daily Webcast
and live-to-the-West-Coast broadcasts. Despite Woodruff's
injuries that will keep off the broadcast for an untold number
of months, ABC News has repeatedly said since Sunday that it
remained committed to the multi-anchor format.

But most industry sources agreed all the commitments would
be too much for one person; ABC News President David Westin
said as much in early December when he announced Vargas and
Woodruff as co-anchors. So while Vargas will be the primary
anchor, Gibson and Sawyer will also appear on the programs in a
still-to-be-determined schedule.

While Gibson had originally filled in with Vargas for Peter
Jennings when Jennings announced in early April that he would
undergo treatment for lung cancer, he already has a full-time
job as co-host with Sawyer of "Good Morning America." Gibson
did both for months but eventually in September returned to the
breakfastcast, ceding "World News Tonight" anchoring duties to
Vargas and Woodruff.

Gibson also was in the running for the full-time anchoring
job and had almost been granted it but negotiations fell apart
on the length of time the 62-year-old Gibson would remain in
the chair. ABC News wanted a transition that would allow it to
put in Vargas and Woodruff.

Now Gibson is being asked to go back to the chair in a move
that one executive said was amazing given what had happened
between him and ABC.

"Charlie has got to be the ultimate good company man," the
source said.

In the first road test of the anchoring arrangement, during
Tuesday night's State of the Union special report, Gibson and
Sawyer participated. Gibson opened the broadcast in the moments
before President Bush spoke, from his vantage point on Capitol
Hill (and where he reported from for "Good Morning America"
that morning). Vargas, from a studio near the White House, also
was a big part of the broadcast.

Yet Sawyer, who was anchoring from New York, didn't appear
for her segment until after the president spoke and Va. Gov.
Tim Kaine finished the Democrats' response. She spoke to two
ABC News contributors about the president's health care plans
and shared time with correspondent Jake Tapper, who was keeping
track of the citizens' response and the blogosphere's reaction
to the speech.

As of Wednesday morning, it seemed that Sawyer's and
Gibson's time on "World News Tonight" could be limited to a
month or so. There's a question of workload, which would
require either or both of them to work early in the morning for
"Good Morning America" and then late for "World News Tonight"
with the 6:30 p.m. ET newscast and three hours later for the
West Coast feeds.

"ABC's doing it in a way that works for both shows and
doesn't overwork people who are already doing a lot," said one
executive Wednesday.

It also comes at an interesting time for "Good Morning
America," which has closed the gap with "Today" over the last
year with Sawyer and Gibson (who were also supposed to be there
only temporarily). That momentum hasn't carried "Good Morning
America" to further gains this season, as "Today" has created a
comfortable lead in the morning news again.

That could change again later this year, if "Today" co-host
Katie Couric leaves for CBS as has been rumored. That, some in
the industry say, could create another opportunity for "Good
Morning America" to catch up to and perhaps overtake "Today."
That could perhaps be in peril if either Gibson or Sawyer
weren't fully engaged in the morning show.

An ABC source discounted that, saying that "Good Morning
America" had three co-hosts (Robin Roberts is the third) and
that two of them would be working on "Good Morning America"
while either Sawyer or Gibson would be helping with "World News

"They still want to beat the 'Today' show, so who is going
to do the late (West Coast) feed and who is going to go on the
road (for "World News Tonight") if they want Charlie and Diane
to be there in the morning," said one executive.

ABC is also likely to say that Gibson and Sawyer wouldn't
be the only ones who would step in to help out on "World News
Tonight" until Woodruff returns.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter