Gibson fills one ABC void but creates another


The news that Charles Gibson will be leaving Good Morning America to anchor World News Tonight solves one problem for ABC but raises another.

Gibson's departure this week opens a spot at Good Morning America just when the show's producers were hoping to have a solid team in place to battle NBC's powerhouse Today show, which will lose longtime co-anchor Katie Couric after Wednesday.

As soon as Gibson's move was announced last week, speculation erupted about the future of the show, a perennial runner-up to Today.

Last year, Good Morning America came close to reaching Today in the ratings and might have been poised to make another run at the top spot if it were strong enough to capitalize on any weaknesses at Today after Couric's departure. Today makes more than $225 million a year and regularly beats Good Morning America by more than 600,000 viewers a day.

ABC executives are careful not to sound alarmed by the prospects for Good Morning America and are saying publicly that they have time to find a replacement for Gibson.

"We're always looking to do what we can to augment the power of the show," said Jeffrey W. Schneider, a vice president of ABC News. "We'll be considering any number of options and, over time, we'll be looking at other people."

In the meantime, Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts will continue to host the show. There is no guarantee, however, that Sawyer will remain on the program, as she implied last year that she wanted the evening job and now may be looking for other pastures.

During the summer, viewers should be prepared to see other faces on Good Morning America as the network tries to find someone who goes over well in the chatty format essential to morning success, said Andrew Tyndall, a New York-based television analyst.

Names mentioned, he said, include Bill Ritter, an occasional host of Good Morning America and weekend anchor of WABC-TV in New York; Bill Weir, co-anchor of Good Morning America's weekend edition and former sports director at KABC-TV in Los Angeles; and Christopher Cuomo, ABC's chief legal correspondent.

"Weir would be the obvious one if you're going to do it from inside," Tyndall said. "He's already revved up. He's a regular face there. But the person who is best qualified is not at ABC - that would be David Gregory, from NBC."

Tyndall said that Gregory's experience as a White House correspondent and his lively stints as a stand-in for Matt Lauer on Today make him ideal for the job.

"He's good live, he's a good interviewer and he knows hard news, something that would be lacking with Gibson leaving," Tyndall said. "Roberts doesn't provide that, and Sawyer, more and more, is doing celebrity news."

Robert Thompson, a journalism professor who directs Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television, said the landscape of network news shows is "like a Rubik's cube," given Peter Jennings' death, Tom Brokaw's retirement, Dan Rather's resignation and Couric's move to the CBS Evening News as Rather's replacement.

"Now everything in the Rubik's cube is in place except for Gibson's replacement at Good Morning America," said Thompson, who described the morning shows as "cash cows" that succeed or fail on the strength of their hosts' interaction with each other. He said ABC executives were clearly energized by the prospect of taking over the top spot in the mornings.

"So when they heard that the formidable Katie Couric-Matt Lauer pairing was to be altered, ABC thought, `Maybe we can finally close the gap,'" Thompson said. "I think that's why they didn't give the evening job to Gibson in the first place. They needed Charlie and Diane intact to take on the vulnerable Today Show."

But then the ABC evening slot opened when the pairing of Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff fell victim to Woodruff's injuries in a January bombing in Iraq and Vargas' pregnancy.

Thompson said that Gibson, who will begin his new job tomorrow, "will get a big jump of three months on Katie Couric," whose stint at CBS begins in September. "If he can get himself entrenched in the evenings, then he might be a little less vulnerable when Katie starts her new job. She'll have a big first couple of weeks when everyone tunes in to see what all the fuss is about."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.