Sawyer move to evening alters TV news landscape

Fri Dec 11, 2009 3:25pm EST
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By Bernard Orr

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Diane Sawyer is changing the landscape of American broadcast television news and is likely hoping history won't repeat itself when she becomes the second woman to solo anchor a major evening news program.

After more than 10 years co-anchoring "Good Morning America", Sawyer left on Friday to become anchor of ABC's World News on December 21, replacing Charles Gibson who is retiring.

In the hotly contested time slot, she will go up against CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and Brian Williams at NBC Nightly News, who becomes the lone male anchor.

Skeptics wondered if Couric's history on a morning talk show and her bubbly personality would be a hindrance as she ventured into hard news. She initially received good ratings but the program has since been consistently marred by low ratings.

Sawyer, a pioneer among women in U.S. broadcast television news with a history of serious reporting, will also be scrutinized but not like Couric who became the first solo female anchor of a traditional U.S. news program at CBS in 2006.

"Her network did announce that they would change the face of evening news. That was a burden that Katie Couric had to bear and that is not happening with the case of Diane Sawyer," said Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center and journalism professor at the University of Southern California.

Sawyer's appointment may be seen as less of a gamble than Couric's, but any change is risky with the millions of dollars in advertising revenue at stake.

ABC is owned by Walt Disney Co, NBC Universal is being taken over by Comcast Corp and CBS is part of CBS Corp.   Continued...

<p>After nearly 3,000 shows, ABC newswoman Diane Sawyer (L) anchor of the "Good Morning America" said her farewell to the program in New York December 11, 2009. Husband, director Mike Nichols visited the set (R) in this photograph released by ABC. Sawyer will take over the "World News" anchor chair December 21 succeeding Charles Gibson, who will retire December 18. REUTERS/Ida Mae Astute/ABC/Handout</p>