MICHELE NORRIS, host:
At ABC, a high profile game of musical chairs appears to have finally come to an end. ABC News president David Westin announced this afternoon that George Stephanopoulos, the network's chief political correspondent, will replace Diane Sawyer as the leading host of �Good Morning America.�
NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The line up will look like this: Diane Sawyer will be the chief anchor for the network's evening newscast of record, �World News.� Stephanopoulos will move from Washington to New York to join co-anchor Robin Roberts on the early morning couch. His runner up, Chris Cuomo, leaves as the show's newsreader to become the co-host on ABC's weekly news magazine, �20/20.�
But the news story is Stephanopoulos, the host of �This Week,� ABC's Sunday public affair show. The move is both counter-intuitive and inescapable. Counter-intuitive because Stephanopoulos had inspired instead to the anchor's chair at the more prestigious �World News,� a half hour show with an emphasis on hard news. Network morning shows, by contrast, flit from war to fashion to gossip to entertainment to domestic politics to home life. As former ABC news correspondent Judy Muller says, the morning show requires a light touch.
Ms. JUDY MULLER (Former ABC News Correspondent): I'm trying to imagine George Stephanopoulos whipping up a souffle � and it's not coming to me.
FOLKENFLIK: But the move is also is inescapable as former CBS News president Andrew Hayward says.
Mr. ANDREW HAYWARD (Former President, CBS News): The networks tend to promote the evening news anchor as the so-called face of the network and traditionally, at a time of crisis, it's the evening news anchors who collectively hold the nation's hand and get us through it.
FOLKENFLIK: But that's the prestige. The profits lie elsewhere. As Hayward says, the morning shows for ABC and NBC generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Mr. HAYWARD: In fact, the morning programs, for quite a few years now, have been much more important in sustaining the news divisions. If they didn't have the morning programs, they really wouldn't be able to exist. That's not an exaggeration.
FOLKENFLIK: Hence all those interviews Sawyer has done over the years with Nicole Richie�
Ms. NICOLE RICHIE: 25 years old. As we said, she became one of the girls who seem to symbolize what it is to be rich and reckless and in trouble.
FOLKENFLIK: With British amateur singer Susan Boyle.
Ms. SUSAN BOYLE (Singer): So Susan, what a sensation this is. Do you wake up every morning now with a smile?
FOLKENFLIK: Now, the three most recent evening network news anchors have all been named from morning shows: Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson at ABC and Katie Couric at CBS. And former ABC reporter Judy Muller says they could handle both light and serious fare.
Ms. MULLER: I think there's actually in many ways more skill involved in a two-hour morning show � going from one kind of segment to another quickly, changing gears. The evening news is basically sitting in front of a teleprompter and introducing other correspondents, now and then doing your own interviews. It's a matter of looking credible and having gravitas.
FOLKENFLIK: Stephanopoulos has gravitas by the bushel, but acquiring it was bit of an issue. He first burst on to the national scene as a boy wonder during Bill Clinton's run for president in 1992. Stephanopoulos emerged as a star of the campaign documentary, �The War Room.� He became a senior advisor to President Clinton and his place in popular culture was assured, as he had inspired characters in the novel, �Primary Colors,� and the movie �The American President.� At the outset of Clinton's second term, Stephanopoulos left the White House and joined ABC news, first as an analyst and later as reporter and anchor. He became known for the earnest questioning of newsmakers. Here, asking then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay about his decision to resign.
Mr. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC News): Your former press secretary pleads guilty, going to prison. Your former deputy chief of staff pleads guilty. A criminal enterprise is being run out of your office. How could you not know?
FOLKENFLIK: Today, ABC News pulled its Washington insider to Manhattan to headline its most profitable show. The counter-intuitive move became inescapable. Stephanopoulos will continue to appear on "This Week" until a new host is named.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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