When it comes to seamless, even heartwarming, transitions at the anchor desk, NBC and CBS can take lessons from Diane Sawyer.
Resplendent in a bright yellow blouse and looking much younger than her 68 years, she ended her nearly five-year reign Wednesday night as the anchor of ABC World News with a classy handoff to David Muir, her 40-year-old successor who showed up for this state occasion in a muted gray suit.
“I just want to say to everyone watching, you have seen David Muir at this desk…You know his command and commitment,” the alliteratively alluring Sawyer declared of Muir, who had just delivered his 150th “Made in America” report and will assume the throne on Sept. 2.
“It has been an honor sitting across from you,” responded Muir, who has been Sawyer’s main substitute anchor and has consistently matched or exceeded her ratings—which have been giving top-rated NBC Nightly News and anchor Brian Williams cause for concern in recent months.
That didn’t stop NBC’s substitute anchor Lester Holt from giving Sawyer a gracious sendoff on the rival 6:30 p.m. broadcast, saying, “We wish our good friend and competitor Diane Sawyer well…Good luck, Diane!” Oddly, over at CBS, where Sawyer toiled for 11 years before jumping to ABC, her departure didn’t rate a mention by substitute anchor Maurice DuBois.
ABC telescoped the day’s news into the first 15 minutes of the broadcast—with reports on journalist-hostages of the Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria, dangerous hurricane-induced waves and riptides on West Coast beaches, and graphic video of a 9-year-old girl’s accidental lethal shooting of her firearms instructor.
Nearly half the broadcast was devoted to Sawyer’s swan song, with a two-minute feel-good segment, narrated by Sawyer, focusing on the anchor hugging and shaking hands and prancing through her newsroom—and even joining in a rousing songfest for former news president Ben Sherwood, the incoming chief of the Disney/ABC Television Group—with lots of shots of waving and smiling producers, researchers, reporters, and editors.
Actually, the scene was so darned enthusiastic that it began to look a little like a raucous Walmart employee rally.
“And now it’s time to say goodnight,” Sawyer pronounced in the waning moments, in which she summoned the memory of her late predecessor Peter Jennings, praised her “brave and brilliant” colleagues, and vowed that the future will be as bright and shiny as her cheerful raiment.
“Better will come,” she promised her viewers.
“On a personal note, I’m not going far,” Sawyer concluded, adding that she isn’t “slowing down, but gearing up in a new way”—that is, concentrating on longform pieces for various news division programs.
“To Mike and our four grandchildren and their perfect parents,” she said, referring to her husband of 26 years, director Mike Nichols and his progeny, Sawyer promised to be “home early for some dinners again.”
But not too often, it’s reasonable to predict.