Indeed, the bonds between Ms. Sawyer and Mr. Westin run deep. Some TV news executives who spoke to The Observer in recent days speculated that Ms. Sawyer saved Mr. Westin’s job in 1999 when she agreed, along with Charles Gibson, to co-host GMA, which was tanking at the time. (In reality, Mr. Westin deserves much of the credit for saving GMA, the news division’s most lucrative franchise, by smoothly pulling off the tricky solution.) Mr. Westin owed her, goes the theory. And now, at long last, that debt has been repayed.
THE JOB OF evening news anchor is one of the last great solo gigs in broadcast television, along with that of talk show host. Over the years, Ms. Sawyer’s career has almost always been yoked to the gravitational pull of some larger-than-life, usually volatile male news anchor. In 1984, when Don Hewitt tapped her to become the sole female correspondent on 60 Minutes, she worked alongside a pack of alpha newsmen, including Mike Wallace and Ed Bradley. In 1986, when her contract was up, her agent Richard Leibner pushed to have her hired as a co-anchor of the evening news at both NBC and ABC. At the time, Peter Jennings reportedly said that he didn’t “go through all the crap” over the years “in order to divide up 22 minutes.” Tom Brokaw’s reaction, according to the 1992 book Three Blind Mice, by Ken Auletta: “No way. If that happens, I leave.”
Eventually, in 1989, Arledge lured her away from CBS News and promptly paired her up with the über-cantankerous newsman of the era, Sam Donaldson. Later, she was briefly teamed up on a newsmagazine program with Barbara Walters. For the first seven years of her current stint on GMA, she sat alongside Charles Gibson.
In other words: No one should appreciate the autonomy of a solo anchor job more than Ms. Sawyer.
There will be other perks. When the 2012 election rolls around, it will be Ms. Sawyer who gets to moderate whatever debates ABC News stages (an opportunity she missed out on in 2008). And, in general, her regal bearing will no doubt be better suited to the Voice of God evening newscast than the Everyman banter of morning news.
When she first took the GMA gig 10 years ago, it was supposed to be temporary. A decade later, Ms. Sawyer looks more than ready to say goodbye to the teeny-bopper summer bands, the insta-famous reality stars, the self-help gurus, the fad diet proselytizers and the relationship czars, all of whom make up the daily plankton on which morning news programs feed. The evening news, by contrast, remains one of the last bastions in TV news that is more or less free from the hell broth of tabloid reporting.
Back in the ABC studios on Tuesday morning, Mr. Cuomo was explaining that a big issue with the traffic transition in Samoa was that buses would now have doors on the wrong side of the street.
On cue, Ms. Sawyer snapped to life. “So they’re switching so that they can get easier access to automobiles there because they’re so near Australia,” said Mr. Sawyer. “But 70 percent of the world’s population”—comedic pause—“drive on our side of the street.”
She emphasized the “our side of the street” with a playful wag of her blond hair and an exaggerated finger point. Such are the demands of journalism at 7:15 in the morning.
There were smiles all around. Things were coming to a happy end. Ms. Sawyer, in a singsong voice, called out to meteorologist Sam Champion. It was time for another look at the morning weather.
Follow Felix Gillette via RSS.