George Stephanopoulos is in discussions to take over for Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America when Sawyer departs at the end of the year to anchor World News, according to multiple sources at ABC News.
He would join Robin Roberts as co-host of the No. 2 morning program. There are several scenarios being discussed, including having Stephanopoulos continue to anchor This Week. Also, Stephanopoulos is said to be concerned about helming the second half of GMA, which is heavy on lighter fare and consumer segments. It’s possible, say sources, that Stephanopoulos could co-host the 7 a.m. hour and hand off the second hour. Names being thrown about for that role include Chris Cuomo, the current GMA news anchor, and Kate Snow, who co-hosts the weekend edition of GMA.
ABC News Senior VP Jeffrey Schneider cautioned that no decision has been made, and reports pointing to Stephanopoulos as the GMA front-runner are premature. “It’s a deliberate process,” he said. “We are at the beginning of that process. It’s unsurprising that people would speculate. But much of that speculation is uninformed.”
Co-hosting a morning show—a grueling job that comes with antisocial hours—and also continuing to anchor This Week would be a tremendous workload for Stephanopoulos and would require a big life adjustment. Stephanopoulos lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, actress/comedian Alexandra Wentworth. They have two young daughters, Elliott, 7, and Harper, 4.
Stephanopoulos’ emergence as the front-runner comes as This Week continues to gain influence and ratings points. For the third quarter, This Week posted year-to-year gains among total viewers and news’ target demographic of 25-54-year-olds. NBC’s Meet the Press, while still the leading Sunday public-affairs show, declined during the same period.
On Aug. 2, when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan appeared on This Week as the economy seemed headed for a recovery, This Week beat Meet the Press in total viewers and the demo for the first time in a decade.
But GMA is exceedingly more important to the news division’s bottom line; even more so as the recession has put a chill on advertising revenue. And while the slump has been felt across television schedules, the Sunday public-affairs shows have been particularly hard-hit by the precipitous decline in financial-services advertising.
Anchor successions are always challenging and can often spur viewer movement. ABC News in particular has been beset by tragedy and unforeseen circumstances in that regard: the death of World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings, and Bob Woodruff’s injuries in Iraq shortly after being named Jennings’ successor along with Elizabeth Vargas. Vargas, Sawyer and Gibson rotated at World News until ABC News President David Westin settled on Gibson. Under Gibson, World News finished 2007 as the most-watched evening newscast, beating NBC’s Nightly News for the first time in more than a decade. But Brian Williams pushed Nightly back into the lead in 2008.
Stephanopoulos, a senior advisor during the Clinton administration who was hired by Westin in 1997, is among the network’s biggest stars. He was named host of This Week in 2002, and he regularly fills in on World News and occasionally on GMA. He’ll do so again for three days beginning Oct. 21.