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ABC Confirms Stephanopoulos Gets 'This Week'

June 19, 2002|ELIZABETH JENSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — ABC made official Tuesday perhaps the worst-kept secret in the television business, naming George Stephanopoulos to anchor its Sunday-morning newsmaker show, "This Week." He starts in September, replacing Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson, who will take on other assignments at the network.

With the appointment of the former staffer for President Bill Clinton, ABC returns to a single-anchor format that it hopes can help the show better take on NBC's "Meet the Press" juggernaut, where Tim Russert holds a commanding lead in the ratings.

This season, "Meet the Press" has been drawing an average of 4.68 million viewers a week, while ABC and CBS' "Face the Nation" battle for distant second, ABC averaging 3.2 million viewers and CBS 3.05 million, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.

Stephanopoulos, 41, was senior advisor to the president for policy and strategy in the Clinton White House, and played a major role in both Clinton campaigns for the presidency. He joined ABC News five years ago as a news analyst on "This Week" before attempting to shed his partisan political cloak and transform himself into a reporter and anchor.

ABC has sent him on a flurry of overseas assignments, including the Middle East, Cuba and South Africa just this year, and he's filled in as a "Good Morning America" anchor as well as at "This Week."

Stephanopoulos said he and the show's new executive producer, Jon Banner, will take the summer to figure out the show's new look, but will keep "a good, tough, challenging newsmaker interview and a vivid round table" debate as part of the format. The show may travel more, to explore international and domestic stories, as a way to distinguish itself.

Banner had been the senior producer for ABC's "World News Tonight."

The summer will also be a time for meetings with politicians on both sides of the fence. Stephanopoulos said he hopes grumbling that his political past doesn't make him objective enough for the job won't be an issue. "I think it's something that's going to work itself out over time," he said.

Roberts, who had told management she wanted to scale back her duties, will remain a political analyst for ABC. Donaldson will report and substitute anchor for "Nightline," and will report for ABC's prime-time newsmagazines, in addition to continuing his radio and Internet duties.

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