Monday, December 05, 2005

Anchors Aweigh At ABC As Vargas-Woodruff Combo Take Shape

But History Not On The Side For This Pairing, Even If It Makes Sense. Isn't That Right, Dan and Connie?
The anointing by ABC of semi-star, dutiful fill-in Elizabeth Vargas and reliable, square-jawed weekend anchor Bob Woodruff to hopefully "World News Tonight" forward is an indication of just how far the evening news sweepstakes has lost its luster, and how worried executives are about losing even more audience share.
At first blush, it appears ABC couldn't/wouldn't trust one person with the anchor slot. The only ones who might have been on the same level as Peter Jennings in terms of audience familiarity and likeability were Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer.
So, while Gibson was talked about as the more apparent Jennings successor, he had three strikes going against him from the outset.
First, he and Sawyer are at the helm of a "Good Morning America" renaissance that has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the network coffers and prompted NBC to push the panic button at "Today" and fire executive producer Tom Touchet.
Second, if Gibson did get to sleep in, there was no obvious candidate to replace him at "GMA," where David Westin & Co. would have had to work overtime to placate Sawyer, who'd no doubt wonder why she didn't get the nod.
Third, Gibson is pushing toward 63. While that doesn't qualify anyone for geezer status nowadays, that also doesnt' connote long-term solution. Nor does it address ABC's desperate need to attract viewers to "WNT" who are more inclined to ingest a Power Bar than Geritol.
So, it's Vargas and Woodruff, both in their early 40s, who've both had their share of field reporting and don't need further seasoning, unlike Brian Williams, who was dispatched across the globe a few times to dry off the wet behind his ears before settling in at 30 Rock.
But it's one thing to be worthy, another to be trusted with the sole stewardship of the signature broadcast. And it's clear management couldn't rise to that occasion. What remains to be seen if two talking heads are better than one, especially since Williams has done nothing to damage NBC's position at number one.
ABC already tried this once and failed with Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner, then moved to a three-anchor monster that never roared with Jennings, Max Robinson and Frank Reynolds. And then there was the disaster that was the Connie Chung-Dan Rather pairing.
ABC needs to hope Vargas and Woodruff were good science students in school, as they'll have to ace Chemistry if they ever hope to succeed.
The new pairing also means some program changes, which we'll get to a bit later.

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