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''World News Tonight'' Transition

By RD Heldenfels Published: December 5, 2005

While the talk gets louder about Katie Couric possibly leaving NBC to anchor CBS's evening newscast, ABC has announced its plans for ''World News Tonight'' in the wake of Peter Jennings's death.

Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas will become the newscast's co-anchors effective Jan. 3. In addition to doing an East Coast feed of the news, they'll do a second one live for the West, so the folks out there won't have to put up with a tape-delayed feed of news from three hours earlier.

ABC says the live feed is a first for a broadcast network's evening news. (It is also going to post versions of its newscast on the Internet in the afternoon and evening.) What's not a first is having an anchor tandem, of course. If you're old (and I am), you'll remember Huntley-Brinkley, a successful anchor combo; you may also remember ABC's Barbara Walters-Harry Reasoner team, not a success, and CBS's pairing of Dan Rather and Connie Chung, also not a success.

But it shouldn't be a surprise that any network is going with a paired-anchor format, since it's commonplace on local news. In fact, I've wondered why networks haven't tried it more often, since it would make the national news more closely resemble the local newscasts leading into the network programs.

Of course, the problem with paired anchors on a national level is the same one you have in local news. There has to be some suggestion of a relationship between the two anchors -- mutual respect if not outright friendship -- and that may require more than smooth transitions from one anchor's segment to the other's. They may actually have to talk to each other, and that takes time away from a newscast that is already very short.

And having two anchors takes away the voice-of-God quality that a single anchor brings to the news. With two, viewers can start wondering if one anchor is getting to present more important stories, or if the two anchors have any disagreement over a given story. The voice-of-God approach of a solo anchor does not cause that.

On the other hand, if you have one anchor, and the viewers don't like him or her, then they're going away. With two anchors, there's a chance viewers will like at least one and stick around.

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