The ascension of Sawyer cements her standing as ABC’s top news personality and means that for the first time, there will be two women anchoring the networks’ flagship evening news programs. But as she joins NBC’s Brian Williams and CBS’ Katie Couric in the top echelon of broadcast news, Sawyer faces the challenge of making her mark in a genre that has been in a steady decline. An average of 22.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the three newscasts so far this season, down from 28.5 million 10 years ago.
The most satisfying part of the reaction to Diane Sawyer replacing Charles Gibson is that it’s being treated as a news story, not a woman story. In matters of gender as in matters of race, the mark of progress is when it’s no longer news that a black man plays Major League Baseball or a woman anchors the ABC evening newscast.
Gibson is completing a three-year run in which he brought stability — and a solid second-place finish — to “World News” after the death of longtime anchor Peter Jennings. A onetime Capitol Hill correspondent with a calm demeanor — he signs off by saying, “I hope you had a good day” — Gibson drew on his Washington experience in sharpening ABC’s political coverage. His broadcast was often No. 1 for a period of months until he lost the lead to Brian Williams and “NBC Nightly News.”
Gibson, a former Congressional correspondent and co-host of “Good Morning America,” has been a steadying influence on the flagship broadcast for ABC News…Sawyer has certainly earned the honor of anchoring the evening broadcast in a long career at CBS News on “60 Minutes” and at ABC News with the newsmagazine “Prime Time Live” before “Good Morning America.”
While Sawyer, 63, could have finished out her career on the morning show couch, that was never where her ambitions lay. An anchor job was what she always wanted — and her willingness to work as hard as she could to get it was legendary. Couric, who made her name in morning television before leaving NBC to become Dan Rather’s permanent successor, took note of that work ethic in welcoming her to an exclusive club.
The decision was sudden enough that ABC does not have a plan in place to replace Ms. Sawyer, who is 63, on “Good Morning America,” which is by far the most profitable program in the news division and where she is the biggest attraction for viewers. One executive estimated that it brings in about $50 million a year for ABC. But “Good Morning America” has been second in its time slot, behind “Today” on NBC, for more than a decade, and it has fallen further behind in recent months. All along, Ms. Sawyer has remained its strongest on-camera presence. Her departure leaves a serious gap, as Mr. Westin acknowledged.