By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 4, 2009
ABC has offered George Stephanopoulos the coveted job of co-hosting "Good Morning America" and intensive negotiations are underway, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The network's chief Washington correspondent has not yet accepted the job, and the talks involve not just the level of multimillion-dollar compensation, but also the details of his duties if he replaces Diane Sawyer. Stephanopoulos was in New York this week, and Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, was there for an affiliates board meeting. Sweeney met with ABC News President David Westin, who made his final pitch for Stephanopoulos.
The network has already turned its attention to who will replace the other contender, Chris Cuomo, as the "GMA" news anchor if Stephanopoulos, as expected, accepts the offer. Executives have staged taped sessions with three female staffers -- Kate Snow, JuJu Chang and Bianna Golodryga -- who have substituted in that role to see how they interact with the co-hosts.
As the discussions have dragged on for weeks, Stephanopoulos has pushed for a role reshaped to spotlight his interest in politics and hard news rather than feature segments. The sources, who declined to be identified discussing internal personnel matters, cautioned that the negotiations are complicated and the two sides might fail to reach agreement.
"We've made our timetable clear from the start, that this would be a four-month process," ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said Thursday. "We're still in that process, and we'll make an announcement as soon as we can."
The onetime Clinton White House aide has also pressed to hang on to his current job as the host of Washington-based "This Week" for as long as possible, although ABC executives do not believe he can handle both programs over the long term. ABC has not yet turned to the question of who might succeed Stephanopoulos on the prestigious Sunday show.
The clock is ticking on the negotiations because Sawyer is slated to take over "World News" from Charlie Gibson, whose last day as anchor will be Dec. 18. Sawyer is expected to start the following Monday, Dec. 21, with little fanfare.
The reassignment of Stephanopoulos as Robin Roberts's partner on "GMA" would be a risk for both him and the network. In the 13 years since he left politics, Stephanopoulos has grown in stature as a Sunday host and ABC's go-to guy in Washington, and he recognized from the start that the lighter, fluffier part of morning-show life was not his strong suit. With Sawyer leaving a sizable void in the morning program, which perpetually trails NBC's "Today," bringing in a big-name star has obvious appeal to Westin.
But Stephanopoulos's likely promotion coincides with an effort by Westin's division to beef up the morning show's first hour with hard news, and to add more consumer information -- about health care and personal finance, for instance -- to the 8 a.m. hour, which often features cooking and fashion segments.
In a sign that ABC executives are looking toward a future with Stephanopoulos, they have been talking to Cuomo about new opportunities at the network. Cuomo, an alternative choice if the talks with Stephanopoulos break down, is being courted by other networks.
The job he is likely vacating can range from a straight headline reader to traveling field correspondent, as it was for Cuomo, who recently reported from Afghanistan. Some ABC insiders say the network will probably pick a woman who has children, given the sizable female audience. The choice could create a ripple effect, just as Stephanopoulos's move might eventually result in a vacancy at "This Week." Snow, for instance, now co-hosts the weekend edition of "GMA," while Golodryga is the weekday program's business correspondent.