World News Tonight anchor David Muir has started to lead coverage of major special events and breaking on ABC News, as the network has phased out the title of “chief anchor” that had been given to Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos.
The change started last month with Muir leading a special report on the White House ceremony marking the deaths of 500,000 Americans due to Covid-19.
Muir has been anchor of World News Tonight since 2014, and the newscast has risen to the top of the ratings since then. During the coronavirus pandemic, it has at times topped viewership of all broadcast TV shows for the week.
Up to now, ABC News has had an unusual arrangement in that its evening news anchor has not been the figure to helm major event coverage. With the title of chief anchor, Stephanopoulos has had those duties, most leading coverage of the inauguration and election night coverage, when Muir joined him along with Linsey Davis of ABC News Live.
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Two years ago, according to a source familiar with the matter, ABC News executives asked Muir to take over the duties as lead anchor of breaking news and special events. But it was a delicate situation as the network wanted to keep both of the anchors happy, and the decision was made that the transition after the election.
Stephanopoulos will continue to anchor breaking news in the mornings as Good Morning America co-anchor, and CNN and Variety reported that he will work on primetime specials and a new shows for Walt Disney Co. platforms. According to CNN, the situation got especially tense, and Disney executive chairman Bob Iger acted as a broker that resulted in an extended contract for Stephanopoulos.
ABC News representatives declined to comment. When Diane Sawyer stepped down as World News Tonight anchor and Muir, who had risen at the network as weekend anchor and for his reporting from war zones and at natural disasters, was chosen to replace her. Stephanopoulos, who had been co-anchor of GMA for five years as well as that of the Sunday morning This Week, was given the title of chief anchor.
In January, James Goldston, the president of ABC News, announced that he was exiting at the end of March.