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Sawyer To Fill ABC Anchor Seat After Gibson Retires

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

ABC News became its own lead story yesterday when it announced that Charlie Gibson, the anchor of "World News Tonight," would be retiring in January. And following Gibson in the anchor chair will be Diane Sawyer. The change in anchors came so unexpectedly that ABC doesn't have a replacement for Sawyer on "Good Morning America." Bill Carter reports on the media world for "The New York Times," and he joins us now on the line.

Good morning.

MR. BILL CARTER (Reporter, "The New York Times"): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, as you're reporting about ABC not having a replacement for Sawyer were you surprised by this news?

Mr. CARTER: Well, I was caught by surprise in the sense that it didn't seem like it was imminent. I was not surprised that Charlie Gibson stepped down, necessarily, because he's kind of been talking about that for several years.

Even before he got this position he had made a plan to retire. And because of the circumstances at ABC when Peter Jennings died, and then they had the accident with Bob Woodruff, he was called in. so he would've retired except for that. So it's not surprising that he sort of decided to step down.

MONTAGNE: But ABC did expect and hope he would stay longer at least.

Mr. CARTER: Yes. And they actually did ask him to reconsider. And when he broached this at the beginning of the summer they had continuing talks to see if he could, you know, relent a little and maybe stay a little bit longer. So I think from their point of view, because of what the, you know, the implications are of moving Diane Sawyer, especially, they really would much rather it continue status quo for quite a while.

MONTAGNE: And the implications are both - what's she going to do in the evening news and what are they going to do about the morning show?

Mr. CARTER: I think they're much less concerned about what happens in the evening news. I think they expect they'll be quite fine there. There are a lot of advantages to have in the evening news that'll keep them, you know, certainly competitive.

But in the morning, you know, they've been falling farther and farther behind the "Today Show" - NBC's "Today Show." And really Diane Sawyer has been the main attraction on that morning show for quite a long time. They don't really have what, you know, would be called a star in the rest of that cast. And replacing her really is problematic, because there's not an obvious choice.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, though, speaking of the evening news, it's interesting that you say that you believe they don't think they have a problem there. Network evening news has not been kind to the handful of women who've ascended to the anchor chair. In fact, some have been savaged, like Barbara Walters and Connie Chung.

Mr. CARTER: That's true. That is quite true, of course. And no woman has really stood out when they've been named to this position. I'm not sure that Katie Couric's performance has a lot to do with the fact that she's a woman. I think CBS was trailing anyway, when they had Dan Rather, and hoped she could turn it around. She hasn't.

But there's a lot of outside factors like CBS local stations are much weaker than the other two networks, so the lead-ins to her newscast are not very good. She can't overcome that. And that's been, you know, bad for her, you know, because people have said, you know, she's not - she hasn't been able to solve their problem.

But I don't think Diane Sawyer will be quite as hampered. I think she has the advantages of very strong ABC stations, very strong lead-ins from the Oprah Winfrey Show in the evenings. So she should have an advantage. But if the doesn't succeed and falls well behind what Gibson was doing it will be sort of reflective on whether or not women can succeed in this role.

MONTAGNE: Well, we just have a couple of seconds left here, but what do you think they'll do in the morning show?

Mr. CARTER: I think they're going to have to reach for an outside person. I don't think there's an inside person at ABC who's a logical choice. I think they're going to have to really find maybe somebody that we don't see on the radar right now, because the people that are logical - Ann Curry, for example, would be the obvious choice if they could get her away from the "Today Show."

MONTAGNE: Right.

Mr. CARTER: She's locked up in a long term contract. So the ones that are most logical are on long term contracts, which again, is a reason why they should've maybe…

MONTAGNE: Bill?

Mr. CARTER: …planned this out a little better.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

Bill Carter covers media for "The New York Times." And this is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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