Sawyer Staying Put at ‘GMA’

May 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Diane Sawyer, the ABC News star who is scoring the network’s biggest celebrity interviews, plans to remain on “Good Morning America” into 2007 and favors keeping co-host Charlie Gibson with her, people familiar with the situation said.

Last week at a “GMA” staff meeting, ice cream was served along with word that both Ms. Sawyer and Mr. Gibson, the ABC News division’s two biggest names, are expected to be onboard come fall, people who attended the meeting said.

Ms. Sawyer, whose contract with The Walt Disney Co.’s ABC runs almost two more years, hasn’t decided how long after 2007 she’ll be interested in staying with “GMA,” one of the sources said.

Securing the services of Ms. Sawyer will buttress “GMA” as it prepares for renewed competition from top-rated “Today, where Meredith Vieira will replace Katie Couric. ABC’s news division is struggling to find the right combination of on-air talent to keep both “GMA” and its “World News Tonight” from losing more ground with audiences.

Ms. Sawyer’s wishes will affect how ABC News President David Westin resolves the talent-staffing problems that have followed the death of evening anchor Peter Jennings. Since then he’s had to grapple with injuries to Bob Woodruff, one of Jennings’ replacements and the approaching maternity leave of Mr. Woodruff’s partner, Elizabeth Vargas.

Ms. Sawyer is intent on getting second-place “GMA,” which pulled to within 40,000 viewers of “Today” last spring only to see the gap reopen to about 1 million this season, into a position where a new team can take over the hosting duties without losing more ground, the person said.

Ms. Sawyer is particularly valuable to ABC News right now because she can play dual roles, said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.

“She is able to really walk the line” and do the job of a tabloid journalist or a serious professional, Mr. Thompson said. “Let’s face it: Network news has got a seriously bipolar set of expectations.”

Ms. Sawyer declined to comment, as did ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider. Mr. Westin and ABC Networks CEO Anne Sweeney weren’t available for comment. Calls to the offices of third “GMA” co-host Robin Roberts and Mr. Gibson were directed to the show’s publicist, who declined to comment.

Ms. Sawyer’s desire to stay with “GMA” for now marks a shift from last winter, when she told executives she wanted to leave in early summer, people familiar with the matter said. Those discussions prompted talks with ABC Networks CEO Anne Sweeney about what might keep Ms. Sawyer happy-and productive.

One possibility broached during those talks was a role for Ms. Sawyer on “World News Tonight.”

Those talks were taking place amid a shuffle in evening news anchors, as Ms. Couric moved toward making history as the first woman to solo-anchor the “CBS Evening News.”

Recently, Ms. Sawyer has bagged one big interview after another, including actor Tom Cruise and Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter, Mary.

Ms. Sawyer has indicated she’s still game to advance her career with big scoops, a person familiar with her thinking said. The 60-year-old news veteran may, however, be looking for a more rational pace, the source said.