The Final :45 Inside ABC’s World News Tonight at the RNC

By Chris Ariens Comment

In the concourse at section 109 of the Quicken Loans Arena there is a concession stand. But this week, it is the newsroom for ABC News. With the beer taps covered, and nacho machine pushed aside, and 40 minutes until World News Tonight, anchor David Muir, executive producer Almin Karamehmedovic, anchor producer Christine Romo and senior producer Claire Brinberg are editing stories, changing lead-ins and deciding what must get cut to make way for some news that’s about to break. Here are the final :45 minutes before last night’s show.

5:45 p.m.: Muir finishes taping 22 promos for 19 different ABC affiliates.

5:50: Muir joins the team in the concession stand-turned workspace. Correspondents Pierre Thomas, Dan Harris and Jon Karl are there. Paula Faris has just arrived from New York. She’s anchoring The View from Cleveland Thursday.

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5:55: Muir needs to trim his show-closing piece, in which he talks to voters in Cleveland. He phones the producer and editor in New York to discuss the cuts.

6:00 Muir and Karamehmedovic discuss the show open, and change the wording. The headlines have already been recorded.

6:05 Muir calls the New York editor for final cuts on his show closer. It needs to be trimmed to 2:10 to fit the 30-minute broadcast.

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Correspondents Jon Karl, Dan Harris and Pierre Thomas in the ABC News workspace.

6:08 Muir asks Brinberg if Karl’s piece on VP Mike Pence includes a 60 Minutes clip. It does.

6:10 Muir comes up with a new question for Karl during his live report, on what’s at stake for Pence.

6:11 Correspondent Terry Moran enters the workspace. He’s been on the floor talking with delegates for the network’s prime time special. ABC News political director Rick Klein looks over Karl’s story.

6:15 It’s mostly quiet, but the noise from just beyond the concession stand doors increases as delegates enter for the evening session.

6:17 ABC News EVP Tom Cibrowski enters. He says George Stephanopoulos’s interview with Donald Trump has happened. He’d been on the phone with ABC News president James Goldston, who was with Stephanopoulos for the interview at Trump’s hotel suite nearby. The interview is fed to New York. Getting Stephanopulos to the studio in time for the newscast will be a challenge.

6:19 Muir and the team rush to the studio about 40 feet down the concourse dodging delegates along the way. (After the show, a delegate from Texas gives Muir an Armed Forces medal and thanks him for his hosting of a 2015 town hall with Pope Francis.)

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In the minutes before David Muir’s World News Tonight, in the distance ,Scott Pelley is about to anchor the CBS Evening News.

6:21 Muir gets seated, and wired. There’s a discussion of what to do if Stephanopoulos doesn’t make it.

6:24 Tom Llamas‘s live report from the RNC floor should have a tag only, no question/answer to make room for the Trump interview and the hope of having Stephanopoulos on set.

6:25 “Five minutes to open,” the floor director announces.

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World News Tonight EP Almin Karamehmedovic goes over final changes with David Muir.

6:26 Pierre Thomas is about to sit on set for his live report, but now it looks like Stephanopoulos will make it. He’ll have to wait.

6:27 Muir still making final changes to the show.

6:30 Show opens. Headlines, welcome and toss to Tom Llamas. In the middle of his report Stephanopoulos arrives to share a soundbite of his Donald Trump interview. He’s mic’d up, with a few seconds to spare.

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So, was that a typical night? After the show, we sat down with Muir and asked him:

Muir: I think if you ask anyone on this broadcast, they would tell you that is a typical night. I’m engaged with the show from the morning right until we go on the air. It would be foreign to me to do it any other way.

TVNewser: Are you writing the show as well?

Muir: We have a team of writers. And then I go back through, and they’ll tell you ‘he re-writes them’ (laughs). I say I’m molding them into my voice. But I’m grateful for the whole team. And I write all of my pieces, and I look at every frame of video, and I write to the video and that’s just years of reporter training.

TVNewser: And continuing to report was part of the deal when you got the anchor job, right?

Muir: I think that’s why they put me in the chair in the first place. When we come to these stories, whether it’s a tragedy that we’re parachuting into or this convention which is a little more planned, although there are moments that are very unexpected, we are going out with the team every single day. We were out in the streets with the voters tonight. I think it keeps the newscast alive.

TVNewser: We’re in a bubble here in Cleveland, but there’s a lot of other news going on. So how did you come to the decision to, for example, put the Southwest Airlines story and the death of Garry Marshall in the first block of the show?

Muir: I always think that the first block of our newscast should reflect the conversation going on in America on any given day. So that’s why Garry Marshall ended up at the end of the first block, because people were talking about Happy Days and Pretty Woman and Laverne & Shirley. Certainly, we’re here at the convention, so we led off with explanation behind Melania Trump‘s striking similarities, and then the George get. We had Don Jr. last night and Don Sr. tonight. We have a conversation all day about some of those stories in the middle and the order shifts right until we go on air.

TVNewser: For the first time in a long time, there are three distinct evening newscasts. How would you describe it competitively right now?

Muir: Look,  I think it’s very competitive. I think it’s healthy competition. I think everybody is on their game in a way that I think, honestly, the people that benefit the most are the viewers. And I’m extremely proud of the team that I get to work with every day and the fact that I have teammates who are willing on a Friday night to hop on a plane and go in for a stealth reporting mission, like going to the Syrian border, and like we did twice going to Mexico and those kids.

TVNewser: The evening newscast obituary has been written many times. But there are still 25 million people sitting down every night watching one of the three evening newscasts. What does that say about the network commitment to them?

Muir: Listen, I think ABC is extremely committed to the evening newscast and I actually think there’s an opportunity in this moment that we’re in right now because of the media landscape. There is such media saturation. And so, with information coming at you from all directions all day, I actually think that people are looking to that clearinghouse place at the end of the day to cut through the noise. I think the evening newscast will have a long life. We’re seeing an audience that we haven’t seen in nine years. And we’re grateful, and that’s not lost on us on any given night.

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