ABC snags foreign reporter Amanpour from CNN to host 'This Week'

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, March 19, 2010; C04

ABC has snagged CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, to take over as anchor of its Sunday Beltway show, "This Week."

She's replacing George Stephanopoulos, who left the show to take Diane Sawyer's place at "Good Morning America," after Sawyer took over as anchor of ABC's evening newscast, when Charlie Gibson decided to retire. Still with me?

Amanpour, one of the country's most respected international correspondents, will also appear on other ABC News programs and platforms to provide international analysis of the important issues of the day, ABC News said in Thursday's announcement. She will anchor primetime documentaries on international subjects for ABC. She starts in August. "This Week" will continue to be broadcast from the Newseum in Washington.

Various Negative Nancys spent Thursday puzzling over what ABC News was thinking by hiring someone outside the box, with little knowledge of domestic politics, to anchor "This Week." Amanpour, who grew up in Iran and Britain, the daughter of an Iranian father and a British mother, will be the first broadcast TV Sunday Beltway show anchor with a distinctly non-American accent, they said. Some suggested the decision was foisted upon the news division by its Disneyland bosses (ABC is owned by Disney).

But ABC News President David Westin had one of the snappiest comebacks we've ever come across:

"With Christiane we have the opportunity to provide our audiences with something different on Sunday mornings," Westin said in a memo to ABC News staffers.

"We will continue to provide the best in interviews and analysis about domestic politics and policies. But now we will add to that an international perspective. All of us know how much the international and the domestic have come to affect one another -- whether it's global conflict, terrorism, humanitarian crises, or the economy."

Added Amanpour: "I didn't know about war until I started covering it. . . . I didn't know about famine until I was in the middle of one."

"This is an opportunity to explain domestic politics and how it impacts the world," she told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz. "I've always tried to make foreign news less foreign."

And when it comes to international news, Amanpour has clout in spades. Queen Elizabeth II made her a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2007 for her "highly distinguished, innovative contribution" to journalism. In 1998, Sarajevo named her an honorary citizen for her "personal contribution to spreading the truth" during the Bosnia war from 1992 to 1995.

As CNN noted, in her 18 years as an international correspondent at that network, Amanpour has reported on all the major crises from the world's hot spots, including Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Somalia, Rwanda, the Balkans and, yes, the United States, during Hurricane Katrina.

In a memo to CNN staff members about Amanpour's departure next month, CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton said: "Her work burnished our news brand and gave it authority. In turn, the CNN imprimatur opened doors for her around the world and provided a global platform for the intelligent, courageous, principled reporting that is her signature. CNN and Christiane helped make each other great."

Dr. Spoiler and Mr. Hyde

When "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest spoiled the outcome of Wednesday night's results show for millions of West Coast viewers by tweeting the outcome right after its East Coast broadcast, the episode suffered the smallest audience among 18-to-49-year-olds for a regularly scheduled in-season episode in the series' history.

We're guessing Seabiscuit was in a mess o' trouble Thursday morning, particularly because he nuked "Idol" to promote his nationally syndicated radio show:

"Packed radio show tomorrow -- got tonight's voted-off idol lacey brown," Seabiscuit tweeted to his 3 million Twitter followers before the show aired on the West Coast.

Some of his followers seemed most seriously displeased. "Thanks for ruining the surprise for the west coast," responded one.

And most horrifying of all for Fox suits were tweets such as this one: "Thanks a lot! Now I have no intention on watching it! Way to ruin it for the west coast." Although Wednesday's "Idol" was the most watched show of the night -- the only show on any network with an audience that cracked double-digit millions -- it was the franchise's least watched regularly scheduled in-season episode ever among the younger viewers that Fox sells to the show's advertisers.

Fox declined to comment when contacted. But Seabiscuit's tweet is only in keeping with a pattern we've noticed this season on the singing competition, which is the country's most watched series and the tent pole of Fox's ratings success.

Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Seabiscuit has been undergoing a transformation this season on the show, from innocuous Nice Guy to Raging Bull. It appears he's trying to appropriate all the publicity about the show by making sure he creates all the news.

His tweet happened only shortly after outgoing judge Simon Cowell had smacked him down spectacularly on Wednesday's show. That was in response to a stunning on-air confrontation Seabiscuit ginned up during Tuesday night's live performance episode.

That night, during an exchange between Seabiscuit and Simon about the performance of Idolette Mike Lynche, Seabiscuit suddenly unbuttoned his bespoke suit jacket dramatically and stormed off the stage and up to the judges' desk, got all up in Simon's face and sneered "I actually was trying to help him out a little, buddy -- you all right with that?" as the other judges looked on, stunned.

Simon immediately pushed back his chair about a yard, put his hands up at face level and said: "This is getting very uncomfortable. Please go back on stage!"

Although Seabiscuit did not apologize for ruining Wednesday's "Idol" for his West Coast fans, the next morning on his nationally syndicated radio show he did mention the uncomfortable-making confrontation he'd concocted on Tuesday night's show.

In the mistaken belief that we were born yesterday, he explained that he had gotten into Simon's personal space because "at times it's hard to hear" what the judges are saying from the stage.

Also, he added, "there was a little smugness to the way [Simon] was talking." File that under Let Me Know When Simon Isn't Smug -- That Would Be News.

"So I walked down and looked him in the eye, and, you know, I saw his Botox up close. But just for the record, it's all part of the show," he blathered on.

"We went to dinner last night."

"And I paid," Mr. Hyde added.

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