Following the November ratings victory of NBC's Nightly News, anchored by Tom Brokaw's 46-year-old replacement Brian Williams, ABC on Monday delivered its own infusion of youth to replace the late Peter Jennings on ABC World News Tonight.
Elizabeth Vargas, 43, and Bob Woodruff, 44, will anchor ABC's flagship broadcast at a time when networks are scrambling for younger viewers who've tuned out traditional TV news. They'll also be hoping to lure youthful news junkies with daily Web newscasts.
Vargas, whose father is Puerto Rican, is the first Hispanic anchor on a major U.S. prime-time news show, said ABC. So her appointment potentially could extend the network's reach into a growing segment of the population.
World News Tonight remained a strong second in the ratings for several months after Jennings left, but lately had been drifting farther behind NBC.
Vargas and Woodruff are the first co-anchors of an evening newscast since Dan Rather and Connie Chung briefly worked together at CBS Evening News in the mid 1990s. They will broadcast a live West Coast version of the news each night to the Pacific time zone, bringing the evening network news live for the first time to major television markets such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The announcement also struck back at online competitors, including MSNBC.com and CNN.com. Vargas and Woodruff will produce a Web newscast on ABCNEWS.com, spotlighting the day's top stories, available online and through wireless connections. (As ABC touted its Internet plans, CNN this week began streaming live newscasts on a new online outlet dubbed CNN Pipeline.)
Both the new nightly anchor format and the webcasts begin Jan. 3.
"Elizabeth and Bob together will be the anchors for this new broadcast and digital age of World News Tonight," ABC News President David Westin said in a news release. "Their experience as journalists, their familiarity to our audiences, and their commitment to gathering and delivering the news anywhere, any time and in every way make them the right team to take us forward for the next generation."
ABC, NBC and CBS all have been forced to revamp their nightly newscasts in the past year. Brokaw retired late last year, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather stepped down in March amid scandal, and Jennings died Aug. 7 after announcing in April he was fighting lung cancer. Of the three, CBS is the last to decide on a direction, although it is said to be courting Katie Couric, who now reigns over NBC's Today show.
ABC had been rumored to be considering veteran newsman Charles Gibson for the World News Tonight job, but he will remain as co-host of Good Morning America. Gibson, Vargas and Woodruff had been the main substitutes since Jennings stepped aside.
Vargas has been co-anchor of ABC's 20/20, a show she joined in 1996, and Westin said she will keep that job even after assuming her new duties. Woodruff, who joined the network in the late '90s, is a lawyer who covered the Justice Department for ABC and has been the weekend anchor of World News Tonight.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.