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'This Week' Better Off With Ted?

Just weeks after Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos have been installed in their new anchor positions at World News and Good Morning America, respectively, ABC News executives are consumed with another succession plan playing out publicly on media blogs.

Politico reported Thursday morning, Jan. 7, that ABC News is negotiating with Ted Koppel to anchor This Week three Sundays a month while keeping the fourth Sunday open to continue to audition the other usual suspects for the job: Gwen Ifill, Terry Moran and Jake Tapper.

Westin issued a categorical denial to Politico via e-mail: “We are in the middle of the process, and I will not comment on the specifics of whom we are and whom we are not talking to. I’m considering a number of alternatives. I will pull back the veil to the limited degree of telling you–for the benefit of your readers–that just about every specific that you have is false.”

ABC News senior VP Jeffrey Schneider echoed Westin’s statement in an interview with B&C. “We’re in the middle of the process,” he said. “We’re talking to a lot of people. But there are absolutely no deals on the table.”

Still, the buzz around ABC News’ Washington, D.C. bureau is that a deal with Koppel is nearing completion. There is rampant industry speculation that Westin could bring Koppel in on a short-term contract to buy time to build up a successor internally. And many veteran television news executives think David Gregory, who took over NBC’s top-ranked Meet the Press a little over a year ago, would be vulnerable with Koppel at This Week.

When Koppel was leaving Nightline, the program that he founded in 1980 as a nightly report on the Iran hostage crisis, he was offered the chair at This Week. But he demurred saying he did not want to jump into the Sunday show fray that was then dominated by Tim Russert at Meet the Press

Now, though, Koppel has told friends that he is ready to dive in. However, his desire for a package deal that would bring his longtime Nightline producer, Tom Bettag, with him is a non-starter, according to ABC News sources.

Taking on Meet the Press would be a tall order. MTP has been No. 1 for decades. Westin certainly wants to win the Sunday public affairs ratings race. But the programs do not add a tremendous amount to the news division’s bottom line. Rather, they are prestige and influence vehicles. And Westin may see more upside in letting a younger correspondent grow in the job.

Add to that the fact that Koppel, who turns 70 in February, has not been afforded elder-statesmen status at ABC News since his departure in 2005, the way Tom Brokaw has at NBC. In fact, just a few months ago, no one at ABC News could even provide a current phone number or e-mail for him.