Diane Sawyer will lead “new programming,” the network said, “tackling big issues and extraordinary interviews.” George Stephanopoulos, who anchors Good Morning America and This Week, will add the title Chief Anchor of ABC News — he will be the chief anchor during all special reports and breaking news. David Muir, who has anchored newsmag 20/20 since 2013 as well as the weekend newscast, will become anchor and managing editor of World News starting September 2.
After leading World News for nearly five years, Sawyer has “decided to step aside from anchoring a daily program to concentrate full time on new programming,” the network said in today’s announcement. She will lead a team to create and commission original reporting and major interviews for all ABC News programs and platforms. Sawyer will anchor and produce television specials.
This could set the stage for interesting Sawyer competition with Barbara Walters for the big “gets.” Walters also recently stepped out of her “daily role” at ABC (including stepping down as Den Mom at The View, a show she continues to exec produce) but said she planned to do her trademark big-get interviews periodically.
Sawyer’s nearly five years at the anchor desk is one of ABC News’ longer tenures of late; she’s been in the chair since December 21, 2009, replacing Charlie Gibson, who took the chair in May of ’06. He followed a brief experiment at a return to a co-anchor set-up (an arrangement Walters famously struck out with in the late ’70s) with Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas that ran from January until May of ’06. They’d replaced Peter Jennings, whose long run extended from September of 1983 until April of ’05.
Today’s announcement divvies up Sawyer’s roles between Muir and Stephanopoulos, with Muir taking the evening newscast lead and Stephanopoulos in the anchor chair when there is major breaking news to report and for special reports. ABC News already had re-upped Stephanopoulos’ contract as part of a push to get everyone at Good Morning America locked in; Sawyers’ contract and Muir’s also were set to run out this year.
In a memo to staffers ABC News chief James Goldston said the decision started with Sawyer. “At the end of last year Diane Sawyer started a conversation with Ben [Sherwood, co-president of Disney/ABC Television Group] about one day stepping away from World News and devoting her boundless energy full time to a team which will create and commission original reporting, big ideas and interviews for all platforms… As much as she loved leading World News to new heights – with so much important, brilliant and impactful reporting and a number one finish in the May sweep – Diane decided that now is the moment to concentrate full time on tackling big issues in new ways.”
Goldston said he’s “thrilled” Muir is taking the World News anchor chair. “David has made his reputation reporting from the ground on every big story of recent times, and we know that when big stories happen, wherever they happen, David will be there for us and for our audience,” Goldston added.
World News won the May sweep in adults 25-54, the evening broadcast’s first sweeps victory in more than six years. Season to date, World News is up versus the same point last year in both total viewers and adults 25-54, delivering its most-watched season in five years and best news demo number in three years. But it’s in a heated battle with NBC Nightly News; ABC leads in the news demo while Nightly has the edge with 18-49 — and Brian Williams’ program is posting its largest total viewer lead over ABC since the 2010-11 season. Sawyer’s replacement, Muir anchored all 5 nights last week, and NBC Nightly News won by over a million viewers, beating World News in the demo.
Meanwhile, Stephanopoulos is keeping his current spots at GMA and This Week. GMA stands as the No. 1 morning news program for the 2nd-straight year in both total viewers and in the news demo. This Week is delivering its strongest performance in five years and won the May sweep in adults 25-54 — its first sweeps victory in the key news demo in nearly 21 years.
Muir called it an “incredibly humbling day”:
“On this incredibly humbling day, I think of the 12-year-old boy with a dream of being a reporter and seeing the world. I never could have imagined seeing that world with Diane Sawyer,” said Muir. “On this day I thank her for not only setting the bar for the rest of us, but for being a trusted friend. I cannot wait to begin this new adventure with Diane and with George, whose political brain power and endless curiosity inspire me, and drive us all to be better every day.”
Here is Goldston’s memo to staff:
Over the last few weeks we’ve celebrated some terrific milestones – number one in the May sweep across the board and earning the highest honors for journalistic excellence in the Edward R. Murrow awards.
Great storytelling and great results start with a team that strives every day to do work of the highest quality.
So I want to share some important and exciting news about three of our anchors who will help lead us to be even better.
At the end of last year Diane Sawyer started a conversation with Ben about one day stepping away from World News and devoting her boundless energy full time to a team which will create and commission original reporting, big ideas and interviews for all platforms.
As much as she loved leading World News to new heights – with so much important, brilliant and impactful reporting and a number one finish in the May sweep – Diane decided that now is the moment to concentrate full time on tackling big issues in new ways.
For many years to come Diane will be a driving force at ABC News with her exceptional storytelling genius. She will create innovative television specials and events, and, of course, continue to conduct the biggest interviews with the most important and extraordinary people in the world. Starting this summer she will begin to develop these new stories, working closely with me, David Sloan, Almin Karamehmedovic, Jeanmarie Condon, Claire Weinraub and Michael Corn. And, of course, Ben will continue to be a part of this creative process as Diane’s long time editorial partner.
Diane’s incredible work on Hidden America and her masterful interviews with Gabby Giffords, Malala Yousafzai and recently Hillary Clinton bring great distinction to the entire news division. Her curiosity, passion and energy inspire us all. Diane is one of the giants of modern journalism, and we can’t wait to see where she’ll lead us next.
I’m also very pleased to announce that George Stephanopoulos will take on a new and vital responsibility for our organization in the new role as Chief Anchor of ABC News.
In this position, George will be our lead anchor for major special events and breaking news at ABC, driving our live network coverage for the biggest stories. From the retirement of Pope Benedict to the manhunt for the Boston bomber, George skillfully navigates uncertain and unfolding situations while synthesizing the latest reporting for our viewers. George is adept at balancing both complex global and public policy questions and deeply personal stories in interviews with numerous luminaries from Vladimir Putin to Angelina Jolie.
George brings to all our programs his tremendous intellect, competitive drive, unwavering work ethic and a laser-like focus that have played an essential role in our recent success, driving Good Morning America forward to #1 and leading This Week into its best competitive position in a generation. He will continue to anchor both shows as he assumes this new and critical leadership role.
And there is simply no better political journalist on television today. That is why George will once again lead our election coverage starting with the mid-terms this Fall and onwards to the 2016 presidential race and beyond.
The news division could not be in stronger hands with George in his new role.
Then starting September 2, David Muir will become the Anchor and Managing Editor of our flagship broadcast, World News.
For more than a decade, David has been front and center reporting on the biggest stories of our time, helping drive us forward with tireless dedication, hard work and good humor. From Katrina to Egypt’s Tahrir Square, from Fukushima to Newtown, David has carefully guided our viewers through tragedy and world events with his tough questions and trademark compassion. He was the first American journalist to report from Mogadishu, Somalia on the worst famine of a generation and recently took our viewers into Iran, getting rare access to the streets of Tehran.
David’s “Made In America” series has become a hallmark of World News, showing just how impactful our work can be as he champions small town triumphs and companies creating jobs. David has made his reputation reporting from the ground on every big story of recent times, and we know that when the big stories happen, wherever they happen, David will be there for us and our audience.
Over the years David has brought our viewers numerous newsmaker interviews and he’ll continue to do so. From the campaign trail with presidential candidate Mitt Romney to First Lady Michelle Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Apple CEO Tim Cook among many others, his interviews generate headlines well beyond ABC News.
David will also continue to anchor 20/20 with Elizabeth Vargas and will play a key role in covering the biggest breaking news events as they happen.
I could not be more thrilled that he is taking the helm at World News.
Diane, George and David are all singular talents, one-of-a kind journalists, gifted storytellers and uniquely skilled broadcasters who inspire us, every day, to do our very best work.
Which simply means they fit in quite nicely here at ABC News, because we have the best team in the business. With these three and Robin Roberts – the heart of our organization – and all of you leading us forward, I am confident there are many great days and much great work ahead.
Please join me in congratulating Diane, George and David on their exciting new roles.