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Tuned In: Sawyer, Gibson's stint on 'GMA' now indefinite

Thursday, July 29, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- ABC News president David Westin wants to be clear: Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson are not temporary "Good Morning America" hosts -- they're there indefinitely.

Now that we've split that hair....

The point is, they are not expected to be long-term hosts of the second-place morning show, but it's beginning to feel that way. Gibson said he and Sawyer are now committed through May 2000, which will make their stint on the broadcast more than a year.

"In the long-range cosmic sphere of all this, we are transitional figures," Gibson said. "But we'll know when the transition is complete."

ABC executives are more concerned with completing "GMA's" new Times Square street-level studio at 1500 Broadway in New York. It's scheduled to premiere on Sept. 13, almost two months before Bryant Gumbel and his street-level studio premiere on CBS.

" 'Good Morning America' has never been and will never be about real estate," said "GMA" executive producer Shelley Ross. "We're not going to wake up Sept. 13

and be a whole new show. I can tell you that we will be something more than 'Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Where are you from?' "

Gibson said he rejoined the broadcast after the failed pairing of Lisa McRee and Kevin Newman because he worried about the strength of the "GMA" brand. "I had a lot of years invested in that franchise, and I love this broadcast," Gibson said. "What is critical to me is that the viewer understands that this broadcast is going to be there for the long haul."

Sawyer said so far the morning shift has been a good experience. "Nobody's making me do this under lock and key," Sawyer said. "I do it because I believe in the work and because I really am enjoying it."

Sawyer wouldn't elaborate on why she took two days off from "GMA" following the crash of JFK Jr.'s airplane while other top TV journalists rushed to the air. Sawyer, who attended the invitation-only memorial Mass for Kennedy, said it was a personal decision.

"I had some personal obligations that [I felt I] should make sure that I served," Sawyer said. "A lot of people in this country felt the weight of the tragedy. And I'm not saying that I didn't, too, but that was not the reason. I did have other personal considerations, and they are personal."

Sawyer also ducked a question about what influence she has in keeping her signature edition of "20/20" in the Wednesday 10 p.m. time slot. Wednesday's "20/20" (previously "PrimeTime Live") has held that time slot for a number of years, preventing several now-canceled quality dramas from getting a chance in the drama-friendly time period.

PARTY LIKE IT'S 2000: Gary Smith, a 1956 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, will be executive producer of "ABC 2000," a special broadcast that will begin at 5 or 6 a.m. Dec. 31 and air live until 4 a.m. Jan. 1.

Smith, who is a partner in the L.A.-based Smith-Hemion Productions, has worked previously on producing political conventions, award ceremonies and Disney Channel's "American Teacher Awards."

Smith said a consortium of 60 countries will contribute to the broadcast, which will be anchored by Peter Jennings. Specific plans remain murky, but "ABC 2000" is intended to be a global celebration of man's accomplishments and anticipation for the next century.

The term millennium is likely to be used indiscriminately on the broadcast, even though the next millennium doesn't really start until 2001.

"As this has been the century of the common man, we defer to the common man's instinct that the turn of the century is 2000," Jennings said.

SLOGANS: ABC has become known in recent years for its amusing slogans in black type on yellow background, and this fall there will be more.

Benches at bus stops promise: "TV. Always on schedule."

On-air spots wonder: "Before TV, what exactly was in TV Guide?"

This branding campaign carries over to the news and sports divisions this year as they all incorporate the circular ABC logo. Daytime TV will get several of the clever slogans, including: "The good, the bad and the rarely ugly."

But do these ads actually encourage anyone to watch ABC? Marketing executives at the network said the goal is to get viewers to tune into a few shows on a particular channel so they're more likely to come back to try other programs.

"The branding effort that we do is sort of the wrapping paper for the way that we express and present all of our programming," said Alan Cohen, ABC's executive vice president of marketing.

Perhaps the most noticeable change this fall will be the seeming renaming of the network as "America's Broadcasting Company." But there's no change to the company stationery yet. ABC is still the American Broadcasting Company, but the new promotional title is a "positioning" strategy designed make the network feel more inclusive. The irony of this was not lost on ABC executives in a season when they've been trying to shoehorn minority characters into new series.

GOING TO EXTREMES: Ah, the life of an actress.

This spring Sharon Lawrence had to play extremely different characters in dissimilar situations. The same day she filmed her last episode of "NYPD Blue," she also worked on the pilot for her new CBS sitcom, "Ladies Man."

"I died in the morning on 'NYPD Blue' and then was with them [on "Ladies Man"] in the afternoon resurrected and pregnant," Lawrence said. "I was happy to do both because I think I would be less challenged if I didn't have to use all those muscles."

Lawrence stars with the man of the sitcom's title, British actor Alfred Molina. He's surrounded by women -- his daughters, his mother, his mother-in-law, his ex-wife.

PRIME-TIME LIVE: A November sweeps episode of "The Drew Carey Show" will be performed live three times, once for each time zone. It will use a partially unscripted story line that features the cast playing an improvisational game.

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