Gibson to anchor ABC's evening news

ABC morning host Charles Gibson will take over next week as sole anchor of the network's nightly newscast from Elizabeth Vargas, who is leaving the program for good as she nears maternity leave, the network said Tuesday.

The move ended months of speculation about ABC's extended plans for World News Tonight and caps a tumultuous chain of events set in motion when anchor Peter Jennings became ill with lung cancer last year and died.

Vargas and colleague Bob Woodruff were installed as coanchors at World News Tonight in January, but Woodruff was gravely wounded just weeks later by a roadside bomb while on assignment in Iraq.

Vargas announced the following month she was expecting a baby, though she said at the time that she would stay on the job through most of her pregnancy and eventually return.

Gibson and Good Morning America cohost Diane Sawyer initially took turns filling in for Woodruff with Vargas. But she has since anchored the newscast alone, a job that ABC News president David Westin said proved more demanding than the network, Vargas, or her doctors had anticipated.

The upheavals at World News Tonight have taken a toll on its ratings, with its average audience shrinking by nearly a million viewers during the past year.

The latest anchor change was announced a week after Nielsen Media Research reported that World News Tonight had slipped for the first time in five years behind the perennially third-ranked CBS Evening News in the ratings.

But the Walt Disney Co.-owned network newscast bounced back last week to No. 2, behind NBC's Nightly News, and Westin dismissed ABC's latest ratings dip as inconsequential. "It was one week in total viewers, and things go up and down," he said.

Gibson's appointment also comes as Good Morning America, which he has cohosted since 1999, seemed poised to catch up to NBC's top-ranked Today show in the breakfast-hour ratings race now that Today veteran Katie Couric was about to jump this fall to CBS News.

"We will miss Charlie on Good Morning America; any program that loses Charlie Gibson is losing something," said Westin, adding that he felt GMA was in "strong shape" after bringing in Robin Roberts as a third cohost last year.

Gibson, 63, who joined ABC News in 1975, will remain on mornings with Sawyer and Roberts and do double duty at night until June 30, when he will leave Good Morning America to devote himself exclusively to World News Tonight.

Westin said the shake-up was driven by Vargas' pregnancy and Woodruff's lengthy recuperation. He suffered wounds to his chest, neck, face, and head and was under heavy sedation for weeks. He was discharged from the hospital in March.

Gibson's move "will give Bob Woodruff the extended period that he needs to recover and return to the air for ABC News," Westin said. But ABC executives used phrases like "long-term play" and "extended commitment" to describe Gibson's new job.

"This is not temporary by any means," one network official said on condition of anonymity.

Vargas, 43, will present her last evening newscast on Friday, and Gibson will replace her on Monday, ABC said.

When she returns from maternity leave, Vargas will go back to the prime-time news magazine program 20/20, which she has continued to host all along, a network spokesman said.

Comments (4)
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May 27, 2006
What was wrong with Vargas? That's a kick in the head! Charlie Gibson is just no Peter Jennings. I don't think this will fly. I guess my family will revert to local news or NBC.
May 26, 2006
Sam Donaldson roxs
May 25, 2006
Better him than Sam Donaldson.
May 25, 2006
I like Charlie Gibson! Thought he should have had the job all along!