Ben Sherwood, recently named co-president of the Disney/ABC TV Group, handed the ABC News reins to James Goldston this morning, calling him the “brilliant architect” of some of the most successful ABC News shows of the last decade.
Goldston, (near right) a London native, joined ABC News in 2004. He took “Nightline” to new heights in late night and later helped take “Good Morning America” to No. 1 in the mornings. Sherwood’s mantra to the 1,000 global staffers of ABC News has been consistent: PYG, or Play Your Game.
“The secret,” says Sherwood, “is that the game that we’ve played for the last three years is the game that we devised as a team: [“GMA” senior EP] Tom Cibrowski and James and I, with the great anchors there and the staff. And [EP] Michael Corn and the whole staff at ‘World News.'”
“The key is the consistency of the approach,” says Sherwood. “And I know that James has more plans up his sleeve.” TVNewser chatted with Sherwood and Goldston about the challenges ahead as both take on new roles:
TVNewser: First, congratulations to you both. James, what’s the first order of business?
Goldston: We’re going to work out a transition period. I’ve worked very closely with Ben these last three years. I’m going to be talking to the team a lot in the days and weeks ahead. Ben has been a fantastic, inspirational figure in the news division and I still have much to learn from him.
TVNewser: Ben, how much do you think you’ll be in New York in the coming weeks or months as you transition to your new job?
Sherwood: It’ll happen pretty quickly because James and I have worked so closely for these last three years. He knows the ins and outs. I’ll help in the ways I can so he can take full charge and take the place to new heights. I’ll be in California a lot in the next few months. And at the end of the summer I’ll move with my family to the West Coast. It sounds so corporate, Chris, but succession planning is taken quite seriously here. James can take over quite quickly and naturally, then I’ve got a lot to do [in his new position.]
TVNewser: James, “Nightline,” which you once ran holds its own in the ratings, even an hour later. Do you see a long life for that show?
Goldston: I do. I do. I think “Nightline” in its new slot is doing unbelievable work, winning multiple awards. I’m just very proud of the team and hope it’s around for a very long time.
TVNewser: The next transition might be at “World News” when Diane Sawyer decides its time to step away. Do you see that in the near term, and if so who’s batting next?
Goldston: No. Diane is our leader. She has that chair for as long as she wants. And we hope that’s for a very long time.
Goldston: I think ABC News is an extremely attractive place to work. We’re always looking for good talent.
TVNewser: What do you think it says that two Brits (NBC News president Deborah Turness is the other) now helm two of the big three U.S. network news divisions?
Goldston: You know, I’ve been in America for 10 years this summer. My youngest son is an American, born in New York 7 years ago. This is the place I call home.
TVNewser: Saturday night seems to be true crime night on the networks. Ben, do you see a spot for expanded news shows in primetime?
Sherwood: I can only say from my purview in news, it would be wildly premature to speculate about primetime. I have a lot to learn and a lot to study. As you’ve heard me say, I’m once and always a journalist. Right now I’m asking a lot of questions and listening carefully.
This interview has been edited and condensed.