May 23, 2006

Morning host Gibson to anchor ABC’s evening news

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - ABC morning host Charles Gibson
will take over next week as sole anchor of the network's
nightly newscast from Elizabeth Vargas, who is leaving the
program for good as she nears maternity leave, the network said
on Tuesday.

The move ended months of speculation about ABC's extended
plans for "World News Tonight" and caps a tumultuous chain of
events set in motion when anchor Peter Jennings became ill with
lung cancer last year and died.

Vargas and colleague Bob Woodruff were installed as
co-anchors at "World News Tonight" in January, but Woodruff was
gravely wounded just weeks later by a roadside bomb while on
assignment in Iraq.

Vargas announced the following month she was expecting a
baby, though she said at the time that she would stay on the
job through most of her pregnancy and eventually return.

Gibson and "Good Morning America" co-host Diane Sawyer
initially took turns filling in for Woodruff with Vargas. But
she has since anchored the newscast alone, a job that ABC News
President David Westin said proved more demanding than the
network, Vargas or her doctors had anticipated.

The upheavals at "World News Tonight" have taken a toll on
its ratings, with its average audience shrinking by nearly a
million viewers during the past year.

The latest anchor change was announced a week after Nielsen
Media Research reported that "World News Tonight" had slipped
for the first time in five years behind the perennially
third-ranked "CBS Evening News" in the ratings.

But the Walt Disney Co.-owned network newscast bounced back
last week to No. 2, behind NBC's "Nightly News," and Westin
dismissed ABC's latest ratings dip as inconsequential. "It was
one week in total viewers, and things go up and down," he said.

Gibson's appointment also comes as "Good Morning America,"
which he has co-hosted since 1999, seemed poised to catch up to
NBC's top-ranked "Today" show in the breakfast-hour ratings
race now that "Today" veteran Katie Couric was about to jump
this fall to CBS News.

"We will miss Charlie on 'Good Morning America;' any
program that loses Charlie Gibson is losing something," said
Westin, adding that he felt "GMA" was in "strong shape" after
bringing in Robin Roberts as a third co-host last year.

Gibson, 63, who joined ABC News in 1975, will remain on
mornings with Sawyer and Roberts and do double duty at night
until June 30, when he will leave "Good Morning America" to
devote himself exclusively to "World News Tonight."

Westin said the shake-up was driven by Vargas' pregnancy
and Woodruff's lengthy recuperation. He suffered wounds to his
chest, neck, face and head and was under heavy sedation for
weeks. He was discharged from the hospital in March.

Gibson's move "will give Bob Woodruff the extended period
that he needs to recover and return to the air for ABC News,"
Westin said. But ABC executives used phrases like "long-term
play" and "extended commitment" to describe Gibson's new job.

"This is not temporary by any means," one network official
said on condition of anonymity.

Vargas, 43, will present her last evening newscast on
Friday, and Gibson will replace her on Monday, ABC said.

When she returns from maternity leave Vargas will go back
to the prime-time news magazine program "20/20," which she has
continued to host all along, a network spokesman said.