Charlie Gibson retiring

September 2, 2009 12:50:00 PM PDT
I'm thinking about Charlie Gibson tonight, in the wake of his announcement that he'll be leaving the anchor chair of ABC's World News at the end of the year.

I remember the first time I met Charlie, and I remember the first time I walked into his office and he gave me the facts of life about Good Morning America - the show he had co-hosted for so many years.

It was late 1992, and I had just been hired as the co-anchor to launch a Sunday version of GMA. At the time, stations around the country were making a lot of money running infomercials, and many of them were hesitant to give up time slots for a network show.

So we were set to air very early on Sunday mornings ? back when weekend morning shows weren't as popular as early morning programs these days. And I sought Charlie's counsel about how we should set the tone of the show, and, to be honest, how to anchor a morning show. I had never done one - and I had been a television reporter for just five years, having come from newspapers.

That he was nice is a given. I expected nothing less. But that he was right on target with his advice - well, that's something that has stayed with me for nearly two decades.

And it made me fall in love with Charlie. I would later become a national correspondent for GMA and nothing made me happier than being a reporter to Charlie the anchor. I traveled the country and parts of the world with Charlie. His questions to me on the air while I was in the field - always off the cuff, always on the mark. The kinds of questions I would ask if I were watching at home.

Years later, I was being interviewed for a job, and someone asked me who I most watched and respected as an anchor. I hesitated not a split second. "Charlie Gibson" was my response.

It still is.

This is a big deal, Charlie's announcement today that he'll leave World News at the end of the year, and spend more time with his family. It's a big deal that Diane Sawyer will be his replacement. The whole thing's a big deal. And it's been a topic of discussion 'round the newsroom.

No matter what you may read about television news anchors, the truth remains that they are the face of the network or station, and ABC News is changing faces.

Diane will now have a few months to make the transition from waking up in the middle of the night, to working more "normal" hours ? although truth be told she has so much energy, and seems to require so little sleep, I wouldn't be surprised to see her coming in at sunrise well after her tenure at GMA ends.

There will be more about the transition in this column as it nears - but tonight I'm thinking about Charlie. And the advice he gave me way back then: I won't bore you with all the details - but here's one of the nuggets he offered - and it's stuck close to me ever since.

The man in a male-female anchor team, he told me - especially on a morning team - has to be like Darrin Stevens: Something of an on-screen second fiddle to the woman.

The reference to the husband on "Bewitched" was, I thought, brilliant. It required a subjugation of ego, and a remarkably honest acknowledgement of the relationship between anchors and viewers.

Charlie wasn't the star of GMA - Joan Lunden was - but he was the pilot. And ran the ship with smarts and humor and common sense and aplomb every day.

He came on as anchor of World News after Peter Jenning's untimely death, and after a nearly fatal injury in Iraq to Bob Woodruff. Charlie soared, and we all hung on to his coattails and soared with him.

He loves to ski and he loves to hang with his kids and grandchild.

Come next year, he'll have time to do that.

We'll miss him. I'll miss him.

I hope you can join us tonight at 11. We'll have the news of the day - including Charlie's announcement - plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Jessica Taff (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa (in for Liz Cho) and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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