11.13.09

ABC Zeroes In on George

ABC News President David Westin traveled to Washington Thursday and met with George Stephanopoulos, who has emerged as the heir apparent to Diane Sawyer as host of Good Morning America, Rebecca Dana reports. But Stephanopoulos is also trying to keep his Sunday job.

ABC News President David Westin has zeroed in on This Week host George Stephanopoulos as his preferred choice to succeed Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America, according to two sources close to the show.

Westin traveled to Washington yesterday and met with Stephanopoulos, a former Clinton aide, about the job. Said one source: “It’s George’s now to lose.”

An ABC News spokesperson said, “We’re working toward a decision and are right where we hope to be in the process. Any speculation about a decision is just that, speculation.”

If Stephanopoulos isn’t able to hold on to This Week, ABC senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper and Nightline co-anchor Terry Moran are seen as inside favorites to replace him.

While in Washington, Westin presented Stephanopoulos with a surprise award from the International Center of Foreign Journalists.

Stephanopoulos has been seen as the lead candidate for the job. Other possible options for the time slot have been floated, including giving it over to ABC’s entertainment division or bringing in a less conventional host like Kelly Ripa or soap star Cameron Mathison. But Westin’s trip to Washington signals that the deal is near done, and sources at the network expect an announcement within the week.

One potential sticking point in the negotiations is the future of This Week, ABC’s perennial second-place Sunday show. One source close to the anchor said Stephanopoulos is hoping to remain at the helm of that show, too—perhaps as a kind of fall-back in case things don’t work out at GMA.

If Stephanopoulos isn’t able to hold on to This Week, ABC senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper and Nightline co-anchor Terry Moran are seen as inside favorites to replace him.

Good Morning America is stuck in a deep second place behind NBC’s Today show. Although the ABC morning show crept up to within a few thousand viewers of Today a few years ago, when Sawyer and Gibson co-hosted the broadcast, it has since fallen off. The show, by far the most lucrative at ABC News, is expected to suffer further declines when Sawyer leaves for World News in 2010.

Still hanging on in contention for Sawyer’s job is Chris Cuomo, who joined GMA as the show’s news anchor in 2006, when Charles Gibson left to take over World News. Cuomo, son of former New York Governor Mario and brother to New York Attorney General Andrew, is seen by some as the likely choice if negotiations with Stephanopoulos do not work out. That both contenders are associated with prominent Democrats has helped to add a campaign vibe to the contest for Sawyer’s anchor chair. There is a rumor floating around ABC that Mario Cuomo has placed some calls on his son’s behalf ( the same rumor that surfaced three years ago when Chris aspired to join GMA).

In an interview with The Daily Beast, the former governor said he hadn't gone to bat for his son.

“I have desires and wishes and hopes, but I don’t see a role for myself” in the decision-making process, he said. “I know Stephanopoulos. I know Christopher. Christopher has been excellent at everything he’s done, I think he will continue to be excellent at everything he does.”

Cuomo professed impartiality in the whole process.

“All [ABC executives] have to do is go to the Internet,” he said. “They don’t have to speak with me and find previous comments I’ve made about him.”

Rebecca Dana is a culture correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.