ABC still mulling over succession plan

ABC is expected to announce today that Diane Sawyer will wrap up her tenure on “Good Morning America” at the end of next week as she prepares to take over the “World News” anchor chair from Charles Gibson on Dec. 21. But the network still has not said who will replace her on the morning show, the news division’s most profitable program.

The uncertainty is the source of puzzlement and frustration within the news division, as employees speculate about whether executives will tap “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos to succeed her, as many expect.

ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said the network’s decision-making was on track.

“ABC management made it crystal clear that the process would take four months and we are about three-fourths of the way through that process,” he said.

The internal game of musical chairs was set off by Gibson, who announced in September that he would retire at the end of the year. On Tuesday, Jon Banner, executive producer of “World News,” wrote in a blog post that the longtime newsman will sign off from “World News” on Dec. 18.

“It’s that time of year in this great country of ours when we give thanks for family and friends and focus on the things that matter most to us,” Banner wrote. “It’s no different here in the newsroom, where we are preparing to see our very good friend and anchor off as he begins a new journey.”

During his last week on the program, “World News” will devote time to recapping the stories Gibson has covered in his more than three decades at the network, a tenure in which he covered Capitol Hill, anchored “Primetime Live” and, paired with Sawyer, helped resuscitate a flagging “Good Morning America.”

The direction of the morning show is now up in the air as Sawyer prepares to conclude her decade-long run on the morning show. While “GMA” news anchor Chris Cuomo is considered a candidate to replace her, Stephanopoulos is widely viewed as the leading contender.

But according to associates familiar with the former aide to Bill Clinton, he still has questions about whether he will be able to demonstrate his work as a serious-minded journalist on the program, whose hosts toggle between covering the news of the day and participating in cooking segments. The post would also require him to uproot his family from Washington and move to New York.

When Sawyer replaces Gibson on “World News,” it will be the evening broadcast’s fourth anchor changeover in less than five years since the sudden death of Peter Jennings. Publicly, ABC has sought to be low-key about the transition and has planned little in the way of a major marketing campaign to announce the handoff. The network will run on-air promos announcing Sawyer’s arrival, but will not do wider advertising, aiming to keep the focus on the news, not the anchors, an executive said.

Behind the scenes, however, Sawyer has spent much of the last few months focused on her plans for the broadcast, meeting extensively with producers about how to put her imprint on the program.