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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]

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