As The Anchor Chair Turns: A Glimpse At ABC News Past And Future

Jun 25, 2014
Originally published on June 25, 2014 9:30 pm

ABC News has announced major shakeups in its anchor lineup, as Diane Sawyer steps down from her perch as anchor of the network's evening news. What does her replacement say about the state of the evening anchor job in the world of TV news?

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ABC is the latest network doing the anchor shuffle. I know, it sounds a something you do at a wedding reception. But this time, it's Diane Sawyer stepping away from the evening anchor desk at ABC's "World News," a position she's held for five years. For more on the changes and who will be taking the lead later this summer, we are joined by NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hey there.


CORNISH: So Diane Sawyer, what's next for her?

DEGGANS: Well, she's going to step back from daily work on "World News." And she's going to lead a team of producers to do investigative work and special interviews, kind of like what we saw her do with Hillary Clinton. And what's interesting is that Barbara Walters also retired from ABC earlier this year. And she's supposed to step back from daily work on "The View" to do special projects and celebrity interviews. So at some point we might actually see Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters kind of compete against each other for these big-get interviews.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, talk about how ABC is approaching replacing Sawyer.

DEGGANS: So David Muir who is the co-anchor for "20/20" and occasionally fills in for Sawyer. Now he's going to step up and become anchor and managing editor of "World News." But George Stephanopoulos who co-anchors "Good Morning America" and also anchors the Sunday show, "This Week." He gets a new role as chief anchor. And he does all that stuff that the anchor normally does as the face of the news for the network. So he'll do breaking news. He'll do special event coverage. And he'll do all the elections coverage. And so what's interesting - and this is really important - we're seeing the face of the news division become the guy who leads the morning newscast not the guy who leads the evening's newscast, like on the other networks.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Diane Sawyer obviously was one of a handful of women to make it in the evening news anchor job. What's her legacy?

DEGGANS: Well her legacy is that she was the first solo, female anchor at the network news level to actually make the job work. Katie Couric did it before her for CBS. But there was also a sense that she was not quite successful in that job. Whereas, Diane Sawyer came in, stabilized "World News," made it very much a contender in the evening news race. And she also did the same thing before that at "Good Morning America" with Charlie Gibson. She came to ABC from CBS, where she was the first female correspondent for "60 minutes." So she has a history of innovating and also being a bit of a turnaround specialist for some of these shows that she's worked on.

CORNISH: So Eric, obviously, she had an important role as a female anchor on a national commercial broadcast. We still have when Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff on the "NewsHour" on PBS, of course. But is this noteworthy? Or since the glass ceiling's essentially been broken, it's not seen as so much of an issue?

DEGGANS: Well, my question is who follows Diane? As we mentioned before, Barbara Walters retire, Diane has stepped back from daily work - two big female icons are stepping back. Who can lead these evening newscasts and become the face of women in TV news for the future? That's still an open question and one that I hope the TV news industry responds to.

CORNISH: That in NPR TV critic Eric Deggans on the anchor changes at ABC. Eric, thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure.


Stay tuned. We will have more coming up right after this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.