Accuracy in Media

Yesterday ABC raised the white flag and basically admitted that their grand experiment of hiring former CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour to host This Week was a failure when they announced that she was leaving the program. She will remain at ABC, reportedly to host about six primetime specials a year and appear on other news shows as well. In addition, she will be hosting a show on CNN International.

Amanpour, who was hired in March 2010 with great fanfare, was a surprising choice to fill the anchor chair that was vacated by George Stephanopoulos when he was tapped to replace Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America. Amanpour had not been a Washington insider like Stephanopoulos or interim anchor Jake Tapper, and was not well versed in U.S. domestic issues, which had been the bread and butter of the program.

But ABC News president David Westin was apparently too enamored with the idea of snagging CNN’s star international reporter to realize that her hiring was a ratings disaster in the making when he said the following:

 “A highly respected journalist recognized around the world for her reporting, she brings to her new position a wealth of experience and knowledge, as well as a deep commitment to bringing news of the world to the American people.”

“With Christiane we have the opportunity to provide our audiences with something different on Sunday mornings. We will continue to provide the best in interviews and analysis about domestic politics and policies. But now we will add to that an international perspective.”

Viewers apparently didn’t want the international perspective, or at least not from her, and voted with their remote controls.

This Week, with Stephanopoulos at the helm, had been competing for second place in the ratings against Face the Nation, but fell to a distant third during Amanpour’s tenure. While her ratings were similar to interim anchor Jake Tapper at 2.3 million viewers, it was more than half-a-million viewers less than Stephanopoulos attracted before he left and a far cry from the 2.92 million and 2.86 million that Meet the Press and Face the Nation are averaging, despite Amanpour’s stature as an international news star.

Her departure vindicates in part some of the criticism the hiring received from The Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales who thought ABC had made a bad call:

From many angles, it was a bad choice — one which could create so much consternation that [ABC News president David] Westin will be forced to withdraw Amanpour’s name and come up with another “nominee” for the job. That would hardly be a tragedy — considering how many others deserve it more than she does.

Based on the ratings ABC would have been wise to heed Shales’ advice.

ABC thought they had scored a coup when they signed Amanpour and gave her the Katie Couric promotion treatment by hyping her show for months before its debut. But maybe the news executives at ABC should have paid closer attention to the failed Couric experiment at CBS. Couric, who was dubbed “America’s Sweetheart” while co-hosting The Today Show at NBC, was known for her perky personality and celebrity interviews, which suited her well. Then CBS swooped in with a large contract and tried to turn her into a news anchor and asked her to do serious news interviews. It was a complete failure, both ratings and quality wise. Couric is now with ABC and will launch a daytime talk show next year while contributing feature stories for the network, which will probably better suit her talents.

At least ABC can take some solace that they didn’t make as big a mistake as CBS did, but the Amanpour experiment was still a pretty big blunder and now they are trying to fix it by bringing Stephanopoulos back.

That will probably bring some stability and maybe some viewers back, but Amanpour helped dig a pretty big hole that even Stephanopoulos may find hard to climb out of anytime soon.

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