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It's official: George Stephanopoulos named new anchor of 'Good Morning America'

December 10, 2009 | 12:11 pm

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George Stephanopoulos, the onetime political whiz kid who served as a top advisor to former President Bill Clinton, will inherit Diane Sawyer’s seat on “Good Morning America” as the morning show undergoes its biggest makeover in a decade, the network announced today.

“I can't wait to join 'Good Morning America's' amazing team and serve its loyal viewers," Stephanopoulos said in a statement reported on ABCNews.com. "No one can replace Diane Sawyer, but I'll do everything I can to match her unquenchable curiosity and intense commitment to informing the country every morning. What an adventure.”

Stephanopoulos will join co-host Robin Roberts at the anchor desk Monday, the same day that correspondent Juju Chang replaces news anchor Chris Cuomo on the program. Cuomo, a contender for the anchor job who was passed over for Stephanopoulos, will move to the news magazine “20/20,” which he will co-anchor with Elizabeth Vargas, and get a larger reporting portfolio across the news division.

Stephanopoulos will continue anchoring the Sunday talk show “This Week” for the short term until a new host is named.

“In putting this new ‘GMA’ team together, we've pursued one goal: How can we best serve our audience? How can we bring them what matters most to them -- the day's important news, engaging stories, useful information, and real expertise to help them improve their lives?” ABC News President David Westin wrote in an e-mail to the staff. “Robin and George are the right pair to lead our effort. As we've seen over time, Robin brings a warmth and intelligence to the morning that no one can match. Hers is a practical curiosity that brings the viewers' questions to the fore. George complements Robin's strengths with a deep knowledge of and commitment to news about the nation and the world. George is a formidable interviewer who brings the viewer a deeper understanding of the great issues of the day through his conversations with experts and newsmakers.”

The cascade of changes -- triggered by Sawyer’s move to “World News,” where she will succeed Charles Gibson on Dec. 21 -- will upend four of ABC News’ major newscasts. The turnover will be especially drastic on the second-place “GMA,” a vital revenue generator for the entire division.

The selection of Stephanopoulos, a former White House aide who has anchored “This Week” since 2002, and Chang, one of ABC’s lesser-known correspondents, is a substantial gamble that will depend heavily on the chemistry of the show’s newly configured team, as of yet untested. In 2005, with Sawyer and Gibson at the helm, the program came close to catching up with the top-rated “Today” show. But NBC has since widened its advantage. This season, “Today” has been beating “GMA” by 1.3 million viewers on average, a 48% bigger margin than last season.

If the “GMA” audience does not embrace the new team and viewership in the key 25- to 54-year-old advertising demographic drops, the news division could be out many millions of dollars in ad revenue.

“What could happen at ABC News is that if this does not work, they will have a big challenge paying the bills,” said one network news veteran familiar with the economics of the news division.

The change was triggered by Gibson’s decision earlier this fall to retire. There was little question among network executives about who would replace him, as Sawyer, ABC’s biggest star, had long sought the position. But the network did not have an immediate plan about how to replace her on “GMA,” a source of substantial frustration inside the news division.

As the fall went on without a decision, antsy employees expressed bewilderment that executives did not have a succession plan in place, particularly since Sawyer’s assignment on the show had always technically been a temporary one. 

In putting the new “GMA” team on next week, a traditionally quiet period before the holidays, ABC is effectively doing a soft launch of the reconfigured program, a similar strategy that it is taking with Sawyer, who will begin anchoring “World News” right before Christmas.

-- Matea Gold

Photo: George Stephanopoulos. Credit: ABC

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