Originally created 06/12/06

Morning and night, ABC's Charles Gibson is on the air



NEW YORK - It's doubtful Charles Gibson qualifies for overtime pay.

Pity. He's logging loads of OT this month, at daybreak as host of ABC's "Good Morning America," then at dinner time anchoring "World News Tonight."

The suit and tie appear to be the same both morning and night. So is his steady, comfortable style, even at those moments when he meets himself coming and going: After a live report on Monday's "World News Tonight," Gibson made reference to "ABC's Jake Tapper this morning - this evening, I should say - in Washington."

Gibson's double duty (Monday-Wednesday on "GMA"; Monday-Thursday on "World News Tonight") will end soon. He will exit "GMA," where for much of the past two decades he has been a trusty wake-up companion. His last appearance is June 28.

After that, he can concentrate on presiding over "World News Tonight" and serving as the face of ABC News.

Granted, there's something of a so-what-else-is-new quality to finding Gibson at the anchor desk of ABC's flagship newscast, where he has long filled in as needed.

But his official anointing just two weeks ago, and his anchor debut a few days later, was the latest unexpected twist in a turbulent year at ABC. And yet another change for a news division in flux.

At "GMA," ABC News brass must now plug a sizable void as Gibson leaves behind his about-to-be-former co-host Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts, named last year as a third anchor. The future seems far rosier at NBC, where Meredith Vieira will succeed the departed Katie Couric and join Matt Lauer at "Today," which is nicely poised to build on its decade of ratings dominance.

Meanwhile at "World News Tonight," Gibson will be putting to the test just how much value viewers place on experience when choosing their anchor - "experience" being another way of saying Gibson is 14 years older than Katie Couric (soon to be his rival at "The CBS Evening News") and 16 years older than Brian Williams (at ratings champ "NBC Nightly News").

"He's been there. Seen it," the promos for Gibson assert.

Sure, but at age 63, Gibson is just one year younger than Williams' predecessor Tom Brokaw and, for that matter, uber-anchor Walter Cronkite when they retired. It's hard to see Gibson as any kind of long-term solution.

And solutions are called for, not only at ABC and its "World News Tonight," but at all three networks, which are plagued by audience erosion for their evening newscasts. They represent an institution a half-century old. So what purpose should they serve, or can they serve, in an era when "news of the day," and even "dinner hour," are antiquated concepts?

Too many 21st-century viewers dismiss "World News Tonight," like the others, as a twilight HEAD: service, a quaint anachronism in an age of moment-to-moment information assault.

With last year's untimely illness and death of Peter Jennings, who had been the newscast's solo anchor since the early 1980s, such issues were confronted with cruel urgency by ABC News bosses.

Their solution: Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff were made co-anchors, with the strategy that one of them would be at the anchor desk, the other on location in full reporting mode. They signed on last January. But before the month was over, Woodruff was gravely injured while on assignment in Iraq.

Two weeks ago, Vargas announced she would give up her anchor role. Her difficult pregnancy was the explanation. Then Gibson got the job.

As a ratings runner-up to NBC's Williams, Gibson has a daunting challenge, and it can only get tougher come Sept. 5, when Couric takes over on CBS.

On the other hand, Gibson - by dint of age, gender or what-have-you - can expect to retain immunity from the "gravitas" question inflicted on Couric, his fellow morning-show alumnus, as each of them graduates to the more "serious" evening shift.

Even Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" has run sassy advertisements boasting "We had fake news years before CBS hired Katie Couric" - the sort of wisecrack that probably wouldn't be directed at Gibson (or be funny if it were).

But the fact remains that, along with reporting on terrorists and politicians, Gibson this very week brought his "GMA" audience another kind of news: You can potty train your toddler in 24 hours!

He discussed the finer points of how to throw a "potty party" with the author of a new book on the subject. He blew bubbles with Victoria, an adorable 3-year-old who had gone through the program, and offered sympathy when he learned she had a cold. All in all, he handled the segment with aplomb.

But just remember how ABC is hyping him: "In times when the truth needed to be uncovered, he never backed down." Indeed.

On the Net:

www.abc.com