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Newman to Take Gibson's Seat as 'GMA' Co-Anchor

Television: ABC's morning show takes steps to improve lackluster ratings while network expects to add another prime-time news hour.

March 24, 1998|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Kevin Newman, the news reader on "Good Morning America," was named Monday to succeed Charles Gibson as co-anchor of the ratings-troubled ABC morning show. Gibson will stay at the network, sources said, as a correspondent and anchor on a prime-time newsmagazine.

Newman, 38, has been news anchor on "GMA" since last November and recently has substituted frequently for Gibson. He begins his new job May 4.

"GMA" faces a daunting task. NBC's "Today" show has been in first place in the morning ratings for the past 116 weeks, and "GMA's" ratings have not improved since Lisa McRee succeeded Joan Lunden last fall.

"We want to keep the 'heartland' feeling of 'GMA' while making it more current," Newman said Monday. "Lisa and I both come from ABC's overnight news ["World News Now"], and I think you'll see us being more extemporaneous on the air."

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Shelley Lewis, who was deputy executive producer of "GMA," was promoted to the top job, replacing Mark Lukasiewicz, who is expected to take another producing job at the network.

More changes are expected at ABC's news division. A network executive said Monday that news executives expect the entertainment division to ask them to provide a fifth hour of prime-time programming next season, starting in January after "Monday Night Football" concludes. ABC currently has four hours of prime-time news on the air: "PrimeTime Live," with Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson; two editions of "20/20," with Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs; and a recently added documentary series, "ABC Saturday Night."

ABC officials are considering putting all of the newsmagazines under one umbrella title and merging some of the functions now performed by separate staffs. The purpose would be to combat the promotional juggernaut--and profitability--of "Dateline NBC." That program, with anchors Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips, airs four nights per week and may add a fifth hour in the fall.

Many details of this proposal--such as how anchors would be deployed--still need to be worked out. Unlike "Dateline," "PrimeTime Live" and "20/20" have separate, high-profile anchor teams and somewhat different program identities. But both "PrimeTime" and the Friday edition of "20/20" have dropped more than 13% in average viewership compared to the previous year.

Gibson, who has been with "Good Morning America" for 11 years, may become a host of one of the news hours, with some role possible for Connie Chung, who recently joined ABC as a correspondent. Gibson had been negotiating with cable's A&E network to host its "Biography" series, but no deal was made.

Sources said that ABC may name one executive to oversee the newsmagazines. Staffers, meanwhile, are concerned there may be layoffs if functions are combined.

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