ABC in no rush to fill Jennings' seat
August 3, 1964, joins ABC News
1965-1968, Anchors "ABC Evening News"
1968-1974, Beirut, Lebanon bureau chief, establishing first American television news bureau in Arab world
1975-1976, Anchors "A.M. America," predecessor to "Good Morning America"
1977, Chief foreign correspondent
1978-1983, Chief foreign correspondent for ABC News and foreign desk anchor for "World News Tonight"
1983-2005, Anchor/senior editor for "World News Tonight"
"The Century" (with Todd Brewster)
"In Search of America"
Sixteen Emmys; two George Foster Peabody Awards; several Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards; several Overseas Press Club Awards.
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DULLES, Virginia (Hollywood Reporter) -- As ABC staffers came to grips Monday with the death of the man who personified the network's news division, industry sources said that "Good Morning America" co-anchor Charlie Gibson was among the likely candidates to succeed Peter Jennings in the anchor chair at "World News Tonight."
An ABC News spokesman stressed that it would not name a new anchor for the broadcast for an indeterminate amount of time. Indeed, the news division was in a period of mourning Monday after the news of Jennings' passing broke late Sunday, when he died of inoperable lung cancer at his Manhattan home. He was 67. Jennings hadn't been on the air since the April 5 announcement of his illness.
Gibson and ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas had been filling in for Jennings since then. That's still the plan for the time being, ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said.
"It is far too premature for us to even think about that," Schneider said. "Charlie and Elizabeth will continue to anchor the broadcast."
Jennings' passing has changed the landscape of the network evening newscasts, which until a year ago were dominated for more than two decades by three men: Jennings at ABC, Tom Brokaw at NBC and Dan Rather at CBS. Brokaw retired from the anchor chair in December, replaced by Brian Williams. Rather left in March.
CBS has still not filled its anchor chair in advance of a reworking of the format to try to boost the "CBS Evening News" beyond its longtime third-place standing. But few observers think that ABC News will have the same challenges filling the anchor chair that CBS is facing in a post-Rather era. ABC and NBC are doing well in the ratings and have shown no concern about the evening news format. Jennings was to be ABC News' anchor for several years to come.
"He was the voice, the person of ABC News," said CNN analyst Jeff Greenfield, who was an ABC News correspondent earlier in his career. "It's always hard to replace, but when it's unexpected, it's devastating."
During the past few months, "GMA" co-anchor Gibson has been pulling double duty many days, working on the morning show and then shifting over to the evening newscast. Gibson also has been ABC's lead anchor on several major news stories that have broken during Jennings' illness, including the death of Pope John Paul II and the launch of the space shuttle. He anchored Sunday night's coverage of Jennings' passing and Monday's "World News Tonight."
Broadcast journalists have admired Gibson's stamina in juggling the demands of "GMA" and "World News Tonight" but said it's unlikely that he could keep it up forever.
"You can't do both. It wears you down," said one.
William Lord, a former "World News Tonight" executive producer who teaches at Boston University, said Jennings will be difficult to replace.
"There was only one Peter Jennings. Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather in a sense could have come out of the same shoot. They both had the same domestic experience, reporting from Washington," Lord said. "Peter was different, and that was ultimately to our benefit. He came from a totally different world view."
Joe Angotti, a former NBC News executive who teaches at Monmouth College in Illinois, said it shows how NBC News was wise in setting up a succession plan when Brokaw left. He thinks that despite the changes at the top of the evening newscasts, the form is still vital and will remain strong.
"A new generation is going to replace the previous generation of anchormen, just as Cronkite was replaced, just as Huntley-Brinkley was replaced by a new generation," Angotti said Monday. "The new generation is already there in (NBC anchor) Brian Williams, and there will be others."
ABC News devoted much of its "World News Tonight" broadcast Monday night to Jennings' life and career. Gibson started the broadcast -- "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings" -- sitting at Jennings' desk and remembering him. But by the end, he was standing in front of it. Gibson said it was Jennings' desk.
"We thought it only fitting that it remain empty at the end of tonight's broadcast," Gibson said.
He added, "Godspeed, Peter" and then walked off camera.
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