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ABC News adapting to retain its No. 1 rating

Published Sep. 16, 2005

ABC News is responding to NBC's challenge to its evening news ratings crown by revamping elements of World News Tonight With Peter Jennings.

Jeff Gralnick, vice president for ABC News, told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour Wednesday that World News will have a new graphic look, a new opening with a punched-up version of its theme music, and a new regular segment called Solutions that will replace the 8-year-old American Agenda.

The changes, to be brought on between the end of the Summer Olympics and Labor Day, will be backed by a significant advertising and promotion campaign. ABC has asked its ad agencies to come up with a new campaign for the broadcast.

Gralnick acknowledged the likelihood of NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw passing World News Tonight in the evening news ratings race during the weeks of NBC's high-rated Summer Olympics coverage. The NBC broadcast had been gaining on World News in recent months, coming as close as two-tenths of a ratings point over a five-week stretch in May and June. However, ABC has taken more than a full rating point lead in the past two weeks.

Ironically, it was during Gralnick's recent stint as executive producer of NBC Nightly News that the broadcast adopted several new regular segments that distinguish it from the competition and have been cited as reasons for its improved ratings. Now Gralnick, who recently was made ABC News executive in charge of World News Tonight, has to keep Nightly at bay.

"This may be an unfortunate analogy, but when I was at NBC we built a high-performance aircraft," Gralnick said. "At (ABC) we're trying to find the right missile to knock it down."

Solutions will replace American Agenda in September. Since 1988, American Agenda has been a World News nightly segment examining issues in such areas as health care, education, the environment, family life and religion. Solutions will focus on Americans' efforts to resolve problems facing their lives, ABC News executives said, and air three nights a week. Gralnick described the segment has having "more edge."

Gralnick also said ABC has not given up on the idea of a 24-hour cable news service. Earlier this year, ABC shelved its plans for such a service after determining that it would face losses of $400-million in the first five years of operation.

"Abandon is the wrong word," said Gralnick, who was originally hired by ABC News to get the service up and running. "Postpone is the right word."