Think you’ve seen more of ABC’s Tom Llamas lately? You’re right.
Having crisscrossed the country last year covering Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign, Llamas logged the most on-air time in 2016 of any network correspondent on an evening newscast.
In January, Llamas was named Chief National Correspondent for ABC News and solo anchor of World News Tonight’s Saturday edition, adding to the Sunday anchor duties he assumed in 2015.
WNT’s Sunday broadcast won February sweeps in both total viewers and the demo, and it’s leading as well in the ratings this quarter-to-date. The program also marked a single-day ratings milestone January 29 with 10.3 million viewers, its biggest audience in nearly 15 years.
TVNewser caught up with Llamas via phone from Houston–where he’s reporting for an upcoming 20/20 story–to discuss weekend news, life after the election, his friendly rivalry with NBC’s José Díaz-Balart, and his TV newser marriage.
TVNewser: To what do you attribute the strong ratings lately – why do you think viewers tune in on the weekend?
Llamas: I think Sunday nights are incredibly important, because it sets the tone for the rest of the week. What we’ve learned over the last two to three months is that the news cycle no longer starts on Monday. Some of the biggest stories in the last few weeks, whether it be the travel ban, the accusations of the wiretap, the immigration crackdown, these are all stories that broke on the weekend. So for people who consume news, for news junkies, or even for casual news observers, the weekend is an important time to watch. Personally, I’m so thankful to anybody who watches me, who gives us a chance. It is a competitive landscape out there.
TVNewser: Post-election, your schedule is a bit more settled these days. Do you miss on the campaign trail, though? The adrenaline rush?
Llamas: You can’t do this job unless you’re “cut” a certain way. There’s a fire deep inside of you, to get up, want to run and hustle every day. So yeah, at times I do miss it. I won’t lie to you! But at the same time, I wake up, I’ve got my two beautiful daughters, my wife, I’ve got so much more time at home. And I can do different stories. I get to anchor Saturday and Sunday now, which is truly a thing I love to do, because you can really put your stamp on the broadcast. And I’m available for bigger projects now, which is great. I still have my foot in politics, I was there for the inauguration, and for [President Trump’s] speech to Congress.
TVNewser: José Díaz-Balart has been a mentor to you. It must be incredible to now go head-to-head against him each Saturday when he anchors NBC Nightly News?
Llamas: It is! I watched him growing up. José was one of the trailblazers in Miami as far as Cuban-American reporters who went to the network. And I met him when we both worked at the NBC station in Miami. [I]t’s wonderful to find a friend like [him] in the business, somebody you can turn to, and talk to, who can give you advice. We’re both grateful. We know that [on Saturdays] we look down at the monitors, and we know there’s a friend on the other end. We’re competitors, but José will always be my friend.
TVNewser: Your wife, Jen Llamas, is a former MSNBC executive producer. Is it helpful to have a spouse who truly understands what you do professionally? And is there a lot of shoptalk at home?
Llamas: [During the campaign] I was away from home so much, and thankfully I have a wonderful wife who worked in the business, who understands the business, and so she understood what an incredible opportunity it was. But she was essentially raising two kids while I was on the road, so it was tough.
We were both production assistants at MSNBC and she became an executive producer. And then after our second child, she decided to stop working. It was the right decision for our family. She’s my biggest cheerleader, my biggest supporter, and she’s my biggest critic! She gives me great advice. It’s good to have a partner like that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.