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New 'This Week' to drop panel discussion

ABC says it is aiming to deliver more news, less opinion in its Sunday morning show, which is also changing its look.

September 10, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" will unveil its new look, and new approach, Sunday with a notable feature missing: The two-decade-old round-table discussion pioneered by original host David Brinkley has been canceled.

With round tables now ubiquitous on cable news and elsewhere, the show's new production team, a combination of the former staff and that of the late-night "Nightline," decided to redeploy round-table members George Will, Michel Martin and Fareed Zakaria.

Instead of offering up pointed debate, the three will report. Will returns to a role he once held on the show, joining in the interviewing of major guests. Martin and Zakaria will analyze news stories. The result, executive producer Tom Bettag hopes, is that the show will provide "more hard information that will serve [viewers] in the next week, as opposed to opinions."

The show will also be on the road more; for this Sunday's program, Stephanopoulos traveled with presidential candidate Howard Dean in New Hampshire. A new set and graphic look has been designed to reflect the program's move away from the traditional Sunday morning news analysis show.

"Sunday morning sets say, 'From Washington, D.C., our nation's capital,' " Bettag said, adopting a deep formal baritone. "That's what they've always traded in and this will not be that. There will be nothing that says 'Washington, D.C.' "

Other new features include "The List," which will showcase the week's best still photography, videotape, quotations and political satire. Interviews, however, will remain the heart of the program. On Sept. 21, Stephanopoulos will talk with former First Lady Nancy Reagan about the publication of "Reagan: A Life in Letters," a collection of more than 1,000 of Ronald Reagan's personal letters.

Overall, Bettag said, the redesign was meant to make the program -- which last season fell to third place behind NBC's top-rated "Meet the Press" and CBS' "Face the Nation" -- "younger and hipper." But being "younger and hipper than David Brinkley's broadcast is not making a very radical statement," he said. "Yes, it will be faster-paced, but it will not be MTV. Our goal is to be more accessible."

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