ABC News Taps Gibson as Solo Anchor

Ending months of speculation, ABC News on Tuesday officially tapped veteran newsman Charlie Gibson to be the new solo anchor of World News Tonight and bumped current co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas from the anchor desk.

Vargas, who is expecting her second child and planned to go on maternity leave in August, will anchor until Monday, May 29. Going forward, she will continue to co-host newsmagazine 20/20 and special hours in the fall.

"I am humbled to accept this new assignment.” Gibson said in a statement.  “I have witnessed firsthand the grace and determination of every member of the staff of World News Tonight. I look forward to joining this extraordinary team and to helping the broadcast start a new chapter.”

Gibson’s appointment comes after more than a year of tumult at ABC News since longtime anchor Peter Jennings left the newscast in April 2005. Jennings died of lung cancer in August. Four months later, ABC tapped Vargas and correspondent Bob Woodruff to be a co-anchor team. Their tenure, however, was short-lived. In January, Woodruff was severly injured in Iraq, and Vargas has been anchoring solo with Gibson and Diane Sawyer filling in some nights.

Now, in Gibson, ABC News gets a veteran solo anchor who is expected to be in the chair through at least the 2008 elections.

“As a recognized figured on the program who is established and respected by the audience, Charlie will be a sense of stability that the [newscast] has needed,” ABC News President David Westin said in an interview.   

ABC has not defined a role for Bob Woodruff, who is recovering in his suburban New York home. His timetable to return is uncertain. “Bob has expressed desire to get better and come back,” Westin said. “There is a place here, including an anchor role, for him when it makes sense.”

For now, ABC is dropping plans for fresh West Coast newscasts but will continue to update the program as usual. The afternoon Webcasts started by Vargas and Woodruff, however, will continue under Gibson.  

By naming Gibson to the anchor desk, ABC gains much-needed stability for its evening newscast but is forsaking a key player in its morning team. With Gibson, a co-host of Good Morning America with Sawyer and Robin Roberts, the morning show has made solid inroads against NBC’s Today. And with Katie Couric departing Today for CBS News at the end of the month, some insiders believed Westin would be reluctant to pull Gibson off GMA at a time when the ABC show could make a run for first place.

Gibson will continue to co-host GMA through June on Monday-Wednesday and will anchor World News Tonight Monday to Thursday. Starting in July, he will exclusively anchor the evening newscast. His co-hosts, Robin Roberts and Diane Sawyer, will carry on with the morning broadcast, although ABC is expected to introduce some supporting personalities this summer.  

The Gibson news comes after CBS Evening News beat World News Tonight in total viewers for the first time in five years the week of May 8. By last week, World News Tonight was back in second place (NBC Nightly News is the top-rated evening news). For the week of May 15, World News Tonight averaged 7.71 million total viewers and a 2.2/9 in the key 25-54 demographic, while CBS averaged 7,200,000 viewers and a 1.9/8 in the news demo. NBC attracted 8.5 million viewers and a 2.3/10.

“Charlie puts us in a terrific position going forward,” says World News Tonight executive producer Jon Banner. “He is a veteran, and he is one of the best competitors and one of the best journalists on television.”