Donaldson-Sawyer Series Gets a Producer

Times Staff Writer

After weeks of pondering who to appoint as executive producer of the new Sam Donaldson-Diane Sawyer prime-time news series, ABC News President Roone Arledge on Monday named Phyllis McGrady to the post.

Her appointment was part of a management shuffle in which veteran executive Av Westin, whose contract expires at the end of next month, was replaced as head of long-form programming at ABC News.

Until moving to ABC News last September, McGrady had been executive producer of ABC Entertainment’s “Barbara Walters Specials” since 1986. Before that, she ran “Good Morning America” for two years.

McGrady rejoined the network’s news division, for which she previously worked, when she and another ABC News executive, Dorrance Smith, were assigned to help develop a new prime-time news series for the news division.


Smith was named Monday as Westin’s successor as executive in charge of long-form programming, specials and documentaries.

The new series on which Smith and McGrady had been working is the one that will be co-anchored by Donaldson and Sawyer, who made headlines earlier this month when she left CBS’ “60 Minutes” for the ABC job.

The new, untitled ABC News series probably will premiere in August, possibly on Thursday nights, an ABC spokeswoman said.

Smith, executive producer of ABC’s weekend news programs since 1980, will continue for the time being as executive producer of “This Week With David Brinkley,” the ABC spokeswoman said.


Westin, who joined ABC News in 1969 as executive producer of its weeknight evening news programs, is having “amicable” discussions with Arledge about possible future posts, the spokeswoman said.

In 1987, Westin was suspended for four months by Arledge, and relieved of his job as executive producer of “20/20.” Although no reason for the suspension ever was given, the action occurred after an internal memo written by Westin found its way into the hands of reporters. Written in response to Arledge’s request to senior executives for ways to restructure “World News Tonight,” the memo implied that ABC News had grown too fat and wasted money and manpower.

Westin will continue working on two prime-time projects that he had under way before Monday’s announcement, the spokeswoman said.