High Hopes for ‘Stephanopoulos’

Jul 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

“This Week With George Stephanopoulos” will start its sophomore season with a second shot at living up to the promise and promotion that accompanied its launch last September.
ABC News announced last week that it is merging the production units of “Nightline” and “This Week” and promoting Tom Bettag to senior executive producer of “Nightline” and executive producer of “This Week.” Leroy Sievers will remain executive producer of “Nightline” and report to Mr. Bettag, who will report to Rick Kaplan, who recently rejoined ABC News as a senior VP in charge of the news shows.
Mr. Bettag bowed to the king of the Sunday newsmaker shows, NBC’s “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert-“Nobody is going to out-Russert Russert”-then promptly vowed to “do something new and fresh.” That’s something he thinks is long overdue on Sunday mornings, when the only ratings suspense is whether “This Week” or CBS’s “Face the Nation With Bob Schieffer” will be the show finishing a distant second to Mr. Russert.
Mr. Bettag, who has been executive producer of “Nightline” for 12 years, said George Stephanopoulos has “the potential to become one of the dominant anchors” in TV news and that “This Week” can attract an audience younger than the newsmaker average of 58.
Newsmaker interviews-“This is the one time you get to hear somebody hold [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld’s feet to the fire for 25 minutes”-and debate will remain the raisons d’etre, but Mr. Bettag is going to jazz up pacing, graphics and production values.
“These shows are so reverential,” Mr. Bettag said. “They look alike and they’ve been alike for many, many years.”
Might official Washington be put off by a newsmaker show that is “a lot more fun” and thus “a lot more accessible” to younger and less insider-ish audiences?
“This is television,” Mr. Bettag said, “and if it succeeds, people will let you do anything you want, even if it’s something you’ll regret later in your life.”