Sam Donaldson on Co-Anchor ‘Jealousies’ and Why ‘The News Business Has Moved On’

By Gail Shister Comment

There is no trick involved in tonight’s Halloween treat for Boomer news junkies — Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts really are co-anchors again.

The hosts of ABC’s ‘This Week’ from 1996 to ’02, Donaldson and Roberts have reunited to front ‘Primary Issues,’ a four-part election series that launches tonight at 9pmET on RLTV. It continues each night through Thursday.

Donaldson and Roberts will host from Washington, with business journalist Consuelo Mack in New York and former ‘Today’ regular John Palmer in the field. Ben Stein will provide commentary.

Donaldson, 77, who owns a ranch in New Mexico, says it was easy to get back in the saddle with Roberts, 67.

“Cokie and I have a mutual respect,” he tells TVNewser. “One of the problems with co-anchors is that jealousies sometimes show up on the air. I can’t deny that I’ve had some of that in the past, but never with Cokie. We never had a dispute. We shared everything.”

A 42-year ABC veteran, Donaldson works mostly in the radio division. He just re-upped with

the network for two years. Roberts serves as an ABC political commentator and an analyst for National Public Radio.

After covering three presidents for ABC’s ‘World News Tonight’ under the legendary Peter Jennings, Donaldson insists that doing programs for a cable network aimed at the 50-plus demo is not a comedown.

“I’m not at the top of my game. I’m 77, not 47 or 57. I started out in this business, and I’m lucky to hang on. I’ve had some lucky breaks. I kind of got up there. Now I’m on the downhill slide of the parabola of life. I’m not bitter. I’m enjoying things. I’m still healthy.”

And feisty as ever. Donaldson says he has no illusions about why ABC asked him to re-sign after his previous two-year contract expired a few weeks ago.

ABC wanted him to stick around for live election coverage, Donaldson says, so Diane Sawyer would be able to turn to him on set and ask: “’Sam, you covered the Harding administration. What do you think?’”

On the real, Donaldson says he’d had calls from new ABC News chief Ben Sherwood and from Rick Kaplan, exec producer of “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” to discuss possible appearances. He’ll show up “as needed,” Donaldson says.

Palmer, a former White House ace for NBC, co-hosted a short political series with Donaldson last year on RLTV. He’s a fan of Sam.

“I worked against Sam my whole career, but I had never sat down with him,” recalls Palmer, 76. “I was amazed. We weren’t going at it like he was a liberal and I was a conservative. We were just two journalists with different ideas about things. He’s a pro.”

Palmer, like Donaldson, says he’s had “no trouble whatsoever” in getting big-name politicos to appear on RLTV. Beginning Jan. 1, according to Palmer, 10,000 people per day in the U.S. will turn 65. “That’s enough to make politicians take note.”

Speaking of taking note, Donaldson says he does not have high hopes that Brian Williams’ ‘Rock Center,’ which premieres tonight on NBC, will be able to maintain its hard-news edge.

“I fear there’s not an appetite for a real newsmagazine, other than ’60 Minutes,’ which is imbedded. The news business has moved on. You can say you won’t do JLo’s new boyfriend, but that’s where it is for outlets that have to aggregate a large audience.

“If you need a lot of viewers, you’re going to have to do the three-headed pig.”