Transitions are always tricky in TV news. Executives want to find a way to reach younger audiences. But it's hard to replicate the audience loyalty built up by older, established anchors who became famous during an earlier era of television. So ABC News deserves credit for the crafty transition plan announced Wednesday for ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer. Here's what it means for each of the players.
Diane Sawyer: Once she leaves the anchor chair in September, she'll replace the retired Barbara Walters as the first lady of prime time for ABC News. It means Sawyer, 68, can focus on chasing big attention-getting interviews and anchoring specials on subjects she's passionate about. Sawyer, whose broadcast scored a May sweeps ratings win in the 25-54 age group for the first time in seven years, set her own timetable for leaving. Was it coincidence that she chose to make the move shortly after Walters' exit? Perhaps. Timing is everything.
George Stephanopoulos: When Stephanopoulos signed a lucrative new contract to stay on Good Morning America, it was with the understanding he'd have a lead role in event coverage and election nights. That was formalized with the announcement that he'll be chief anchor of ABC News. The promotion is another sign of how the morning shows have supplanted the evening newscasts as the most important piece of a network news division. Would Stephanopoulos have commanded a high seven-figure salary to take over for Sawyer? Unlikely. But at GMA, the top-rated morning show that's massively profitable, he's worth every dollar. His new additional role will supplement the hard news calories he may occasionally be missing on the frothy GMA.
David Muir: Long the favorite to succeed Sawyer as anchor of ABC World News, Muir's ability to equal or improve on the ratings when he substituted for her sealed the deal. At 40, Muir will be the youngest evening news anchor (NBC's Brian Williams is 55 and CBS' Scott Pelley is 56). He has a breezier delivery than his two competitors, giving viewers a real choice. He is indefatigable in the field and during breaking news coverage (as weekend anchor, he deftly handled the Asiana Airlines accident at San Francisco International Airport). His Made In America segments have given him the profile that's hard to attain in TV news without being on the air every night. But starting Sept. 2, he will be.