Diane Sawyer to Anchor ‘World News’: ‘Another Nail in the Coffin of the Old Boys’ Network’

By Gail Shister Comment

GibsonSawyer_9.3.jpgAnyone predicting a Diane Sawyer – Katie Couric “cat fight” come January “needs to get a life,” says Connie Chung.

“It’s a chauvinistic question,” explains Chung, 63, Dan Rather’s co-anchor on “CBS Evening News” for about a minute and a half in the early ’90s. “The question should be, ‘How will Diane do against Brian [Williams] and Katie?'”

“Good Morning America’s” Sawyer, 63, will replace retirement-bound Charlie Gibson, 66, as anchor of “ABC World News” beginning in January, ABC announced yesterday. She’ll take on Williams’ No. 1 “NBC Nightly News” and Couric’s No. 3 “CBS Evening News.”

Wonder if Couric’s executive producer, Rick Kaplan, will take down the framed photograph of Sawyer on his office “anchor wall”? He was her E.P. on ABC’s “PrimeTime Live’ when it launched in 1989. Also in the gallery: Walter Cronkite, from Kaplan’s earlier CBS hitch.

While Sawyer was the obvious choice for “World News”, the sudden timing of the news caught many in the industry by surprise, including Chung.

“I never thought Charlie would give up the chair,” she says.

“I’m shocked,” says Emily Rooney, 59, of Boston’s WGBH and former E.P. of “World News Tonight.’ “He’s only 66. I don’t know why he would want to retire if the affiliates are happy. I’m always suspicious. My gut is that they promised her this.”

Jim Bell, E.P. of NBC’s champion “Today,” is relieved he won’t have to compete with Sawyer anymore, but says he’s surprised ABC “would tinker with ‘GMA’. It seemed like they were all in a good place.”

Were they? Who knows? ABC kept Sawyer and Gibson under wraps yesterday.

“I had hoped Charlie would anchor the program for many more years,” says “World News” E.P. Jon Banner. “I tried to talk him out of it, but this is something he’s thought about for a long time.

“He set a lot of goals for himself. He met almost all of them. We’ll be forever grateful to him.”

Some, like Rooney, thought ABC would name a younger successor, despite Sawyer’s qualifications. Chung is thrilled the network didn’t. She labels Sawyer’s appointment as “a wonderful testament to women in their 60s.

“In the past, women were always sent out to pasture. Men were very much in their prime when they hit 60. I’m almost more excited about that. That alone makes me so happy.”

Maybe, but gender trumps all. “This puts another nail in the coffin of the old boys’ network,” Chung says. “Also, it makes it clear that Katie wasn’t an aberration. I’m sorry this didn’t happen earlier, when network news was a lot more dominant.”

Chung called Sawyer and Gibson yesterday to wish them luck. Actually, her wish for Gibson went one step further.

“I told him I was looking forward to having a playmate,” Chung says, “and that he needs to start sponging off Arlene [his wife, who’s retired] because I’ve been sponging off Maury [husband Maury Povich] and it’s delightful.”