Tuesday, May 23, 2006

ABC Finally Pulls the Trigger

In a move which has surprised few, ABC finally named Charlie Gibson sole anchor of World News Tonight -- kicking Elizabeth Vargas to the curb less than six months after she took the helm as network TV news' first Hispanic top anchor.

"(ABC News President David Westin) and I have been talking for some time about what would happen as my maternity leave approaches," Vargas said, offering TV news' version of the classic "resigning to spend more time with family" politican's excuse in ABC's press release. "My doctors have asked that I cut back my schedule considerably. What works best for me and my family is to return in the fall to 20/20 as I raise my new baby and young son."

Sad as I am for Vargas -- a competent anchor who was handed an assignment beyond both her talent and seasoning in the first place -- this had to happen. ABC came in last place among the three networks newscasts last week for the first time since 2001 -- inspiring a victory dance and lots of charts over at newly-second-place CBS. The suits at the alphabet network could see months in the future to Katie Couric's ascension at CBS and only see heightened viewership for their rival broadcast.

In a spasm of bad luck which has become typical for sad sack ABC, the ratings dip came during May's upfront ad season -- when advertisers and affiliate station executives were in New York to express their displeasure firsthand.

And Charlie Gibson becomes the luckiest guy in TV news, ascending to become the face of a network which has done all it could to shake him off-- first taking him off Good Morning America in the late '90s, and then denying him the top anchor gig for any length of time, preferring to bet on Vargas and Bob Woodruff -- whose return from a bomb blast in Iraq now seems an open question.

By the time Couric ascends to the throne, there will be three clear options: urbane and slick Brian Williams at NBC, old school good guy Gibson and whatever face the Perky One presents at CBS. As I have suggested before, now is the time for ABC to zero in on its Brian Williams, and spend years grooming him or her, while Gibson safeguards the franchise for five years or so.

As we've learned these past few years, network news viewership is still a long term game. Time for ABC to start thinking for its future as well as its present.

7 Comments:

  • At 3:46 PM, May 23, 2006, Anonymous said…

    i feel really bad for vargas. one wonders what would have become of her career had she utilized "protection?"

     
  • At 3:11 PM, May 24, 2006, Anonymous said…

    Time magazine's James Poniewozik is not too fond of this move.

    Poniewozik's blog

     
  • At 3:19 PM, May 24, 2006, Wolf-gal Val said…

    Vargas..."a competent anchor who was handed an assignment beyond both her talent and seasoning.."

    Uh, nice backhanded compliment, Eric.

    Fact is, she was the reason I went back to watching network evening news. Solid skills all around. I'm that target 25-54 female demographic and to be honest - I don't know how anyone can tolerate the volume of pharmacutical and OTC drugs for geezers that flood the evening news broadcast! But that's who the audience IS and shall remain. I bet Couric flounders too.

     
  • At 3:26 PM, May 24, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    All I can say is that I talked to a few women who once worked at ABC while preparing my story for today, and all of them agreed that Vargas is generally considered a lightweight at ABC News. Keep in mind, she started with a demerit -- if they thought she could handle the job alone, they wouldn't have made Bob Woodruff her co-anchor in the first place.

    Weird as this looks, I don't think this is about gender. If the ratings for World News weren't steadily declining, they probably would have stuck with Vargas. But she's considered a lightweight, the ratings are sliding and industry watchers were clamoring for ABc to do something. Their only choice was to have one of their big news stars take over the show. Taking Diane Sawyer off GMA would probably kill that show's momentum, so they went with the number two -- Gibson.

     
  • At 4:02 PM, May 24, 2006, Anonymous said…

    Amazingly, this will likely get more coverage than my boy jefferson in LA. Media have been ignoring this for months and months, and even now are focused on bitching house members instead of jefferson.

    And not so amazingly, the abject hypocracy of the SPT editorial board shined through again today. They say today that any attempt to frustrate voter registration and participation is offensive. This comes about a week after they blasted voter registration in outdoors stores. It's almost laughable. If the proposal comes from chairman Mao, the SPT will support it. If it comes from President Bush, the SPT will oppose it. But NONE of the ultra-leftist dribble soaks through to the news, right?

     
  • At 4:11 PM, May 24, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    Dunno -- CNN has been covering the Jefferson case pretty closely since he was arrested. As I type this, they are outlining the legality of the search against him, and efforts by dems to get him to resign while the repubs want him to stay. Yesterday,there was much ridicule of his attempts to explain away the $90,000 found in his freezer and only a passing mention of Charlie Gibson.

    I think we'll see plenty of jefferson coverage, because the Washington press loves a scandal. Can't say much about the edit board's stuff, because I don't work there anymore and have no control over what they write...

     
  • At 8:58 PM, May 24, 2006, Anonymous said…

    Dude,

    You brought down one more white Journalist just 15 more to go.

    Keep up the good work.

     

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