David Westin On ‘The New Normal’…In Life and on TV: “I Don’t Take Any Pleasure In Seeing Any Competitor Do Badly”

By Alissa Krinsky 

Alissa Krinsky
TVNewser Contributor

Starting Monday, ABC News will begin a multi-platform, division-wide series, The New Normal. Broadcast on TV and radio and on ABCNews.com over seven days, Normal will focus on what happens after the recession eases.

ABC News President David Westin talks with TVNewser about the series. Normal, says Westin, will be different.


TVNewser: Tell us about the strategic approach that resulted in The New Normal.

Westin: Starting at least back in September of last year, all of us could see…the way [the economy was affecting] every single one of the members of our audience…

So we started a series of…off-the-record editorial meetings, with economists and business leaders and regulators [and] other experts, and everybody agreed on one thing: whenever the recession ended, things would not return to where they had been.

And that led me to write an email to a group of editorial people here, saying…’I don’t believe the media — certainly the television news media — are really covering what comes after [the recession].’

TVNewser: Americans are seeing a lot of recession coverage — CBS News’s ‘Children of the Recession’ series, for example — so are you concerned about viewer ‘recession fatigue’?

Westin: When we talk about a ‘new normal,’ that ‘new normal’ is not necessarily bad…

It’s easy, if it’s all gloom and doom, to become tired of hearing that.

What we perceive this as being is…[our lives might change] in some ways that may not be as enjoyable, and some ways that will be better.

TVNewser: One state greatly affected by this recession is your native Michigan. I understand your father worked in the auto industry.

Westin: My grandfather emigrated from Cornwall [England], and spent forty-five years at the same job, on the Buick Motor assembly line.

My father was a tool and dye maker at AC Spark Plug, later working his way up to middle management at Ford.

And my brother-in-law worked for 35 years as an engineer at Ford and just lost his job this last January.

TVNewser: Let’s turn our attention to Nightline. With Jay Leno stepping down at The Tonight Show, what might the new late-night scene mean for ABC?

Westin: It could mean a wide range of things.

You’ve seen a reduction in overall viewership on both the Letterman and the Leno shows. The one program that’s been growing over the past 2-3 years has been Nightline. And that continues to grow for us.

I believe, personally, that an alternative to a stand-up comedian, however how talented, is a smart, strategic move.

And now…[there’s] a third version of [a comedic show] at 10 o’clock, with Jay Leno. So, I think that that offers an opportunity. But ultimately, it’s up to us and how good a program we put on.

Thus far, I think we’ve been putting on a very good program, and the audience has been responding. And our job is to keep doing that and not worry about what other people are doing.

TVNewser: The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric has hit a ratings low point. Of the three networks’ evening newscasts, only Nightly News’ viewership is up [year-to-date vs. last year-to-date]. How do you view this, and do you have a long-term commitment to World News with Charles Gibson?

Westin: We certainly have a long-term commitment to World News with Charles Gibson — there shouldn’t be any question in anybody’s mind about that.

…We are fortunate to have a lot of people who continue to watch [the show]. It’s not as many people as we’d like to have, and we need to get more. I regard this much more as a game of golf, rather than tennis. We’re playing the course, rather than playing the opposition.

But I don’t take any pleasure at all in seeing any competitor do badly. As I said, this is golf — how many people are watching us, and how can we get more people to watch us? That’s what I’m focused on.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]