ABC News is doing its best to put a pleasant gloss on the fact that its Sunday morning anchor has been a flop.
No one doubts that Christiane Amanpour is an aggressive and talented globe-trotting correspondent. But the announcement Tuesday that she is leaving This Week, and will launch a new evening newscast for CNN International, seems to confirm the early criticism that she was not a good fit for the job of political pundit.
And the fact that ABC is bringing George Stephanopoulos back to This Week, the job he surrendered 18 months ago to co-host Good Morning America, is further evidence that the decision to replace him was probably a mistake. Stephanopoulos will continue at GMA, pulling the kind of double duty that he told me at the time was impossible, given that he has to be in New York for the morning show while the Sunday program is broadcast from Washington.
Under Amanpour, This Week slipped to third place in the ratings, while David Gregory at Meet the Press and Bob Schieffer at Face the Nation have been in a horse race for first place. On Dec. 4, for example, Face led with 3.29 million viewers, Meet had 3.02 million, and This Week trailed with 2.26 million. Schieffer has just won the right to expand his CBS program to one hour like the others, at least through the 2012 campaign.
ABC is giving Amanpour the title of global affairs anchor and saying she will report from around the world. “This is an exciting and unique opportunity for me to take my love of storytelling to primetime at ABC News with multiple specials,” she said in a statement. “I am looking forward to getting back into the field to report stories on global issues that matter greatly to the American people. At the same time, I will be broadcasting once again to hundreds of millions of people across the world with a weekday show on CNN International.”
Amanpour spent 18 years at CNN before making the jump last year. Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, called her “synonymous with international reporting,” adding: “We could not be happier that through this unique arrangement with ABC News her experience and global perspective are returning to a nightly news broadcast for our international audience.”
Jake Tapper, ABC’s White House correspondent, who spent several months filling in as the Sunday anchor during the transition to Amanpour, will become a regular panelist and correspondent for This Week. He could also be tapped as a future anchor if the Stephanopoulos arrangement lasts only through 2012.
“It’s a big learning curve for me,” Amanpour told me last March. “And really, I’m enjoying learning all the kind of domestic information and news that I haven’t been covering.”
Amanpour had her moments of triumph—a “remarkable year,” as ABC News President Ben Sherwood put it-- particularly during the Arab Spring, when she landed exclusive interviews with Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. But having lived in Europe for a dozen years before taking the job, she never seemed to fully embrace the rhythms of American politics. Heading into a campaign year, ABC executives gradually concluded that it would be better to go with their top political analyst. As a former Clinton White House aide, Stephanopoulos is especially well connected in Democratic circles.
With Amanpour returning to what she does best, ABC must figure out whether to bring in Tapper or someone else after the campaign or permanently return the franchise to Stephanopoulos, who has been saddled with handling stories about Linsday Lohan and Justin Bieber as GMA moves in a more tabloid direction. Having moved his wife, Ali Wentworth, and their children to New York, it’s hard to see how he could do both shows indefinitely.
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