The story of how George Stephanopoulos comes to fill the No. 2 seat at ABC News is a drawn-out affair, played out in slow motion with press leaks and speculation as the network takes its time rejiggering the anchor lineups on its highest-profile newscasts.
Even now, ABC News wouldn't officially say Stephanopoulos will join Good Morning America on Monday, though press outlets ranging from Politico to the Washington Post were reporting the news by midday Wednesday. An official announcement is expected this afternoon.
But the former Clinton aide's addition to ABC's morning show is one of the biggest moves in a game of news anchor musical chairs kicked off by Charles Gibson's decision to retire this year, leading top GMA anchor Diane Sawyer to take the helm at World News.
The shifts also mean ABC could be changing anchors on its evening newscast, its morning show and newsmagazine 20/20 within the same week. (GMA newsreader Chris Cuomo, who reportedly hoped to succeed Sawyer, is heading to 20/20.)
With World News, GMA and This Week now scoring strong second place ratings behind NBC News shows, that's a lot of change to well-performing shows coming at once.
Which raises the question: Why doesn't ABC News have a deeper anchor bench?
A source at ABC News scoffed at the notion, saying the availability of Sawyer and Stephanopoulos to cover openings created by Gibson's exit shows the strength of their anchor team. But when CBS and NBC had to replace Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert, they didn't pull anchors from other successful news shows on their network.
Here's a look at all the moving parts this change brings into play:
The biggest cog in this change, Sawyer leaves GMA after Friday's show, clearing the way for a full week of Gibson nostalgia before his Dec. 18 departure. But though she's the news division's biggest star (outside The View's Barbara Walters, perhaps), Sawyer's ascension on Dec. 21 won't be touted in tons of press interviews and promotional events. The quieter change seems an attempt to learn from Katie Couric's move to CBS, where the publicity helped fuel a viewer and critical backlash that lasted years. What happens when two of three network news anchors are female may write a new chapter for the future of a fading medium.
It's taken Stephanopoulos many years to outdistance his political past and emerge as ABC News' top political anchor. So it's a small surprise he wanted some discussion about the mix of serious and silly on today's morning news shows before taking the job. (An ABC source says the network planned to create a different role for the new co-anchor anyway.) But with news that he will also anchor the Sunday politics show This Week for some time, you have to wonder: how long can a married guy with young children work seven days a week?
An Emmy-winning ABC News correspondent, she snagged the GMA news anchor job Cuomo left after Stephanopoulos' hiring was leaked. (Confused yet?) This means network TV's No. 2 show has two new personalities to fit in with co-anchor Robin Roberts and forecaster Sam Champion instead of one. And Cuomo will join former World News anchor Elizabeth Vargas on 20/20 Fridays, a show lately seen as a haven for floundering talent.
As president of ABC News, this round robin of anchor changes is his responsibility. Some critics have already dinged him for failing to feed the anchor lineup at ABC with new talent and coddling existing stars by failing to develop new ones. And his last big anchor move — hiring Vargas and Bob Woodruff to co-lead World News — derailed when Woodruff was caught in an explosion in Iraq and Vargas was sidelined by a maternity leave. Can Westin prove his savvy by pulling off all these changes seamlessly?