After a protracted four-network battle for her services, newswoman Diane Sawyer decided to stay at ABC. According to insiders, Sawyer signed a three-year pact worth between $ 6 million and $ 7 million a year, at least doubling her salary.
From the terms of the deal, it appears ABC News in primetime will be virtually all Sawyer, all the time. The pact calls for her to expand on her co-anchor duties on “PrimeTime Live,” to share anchor duties on the new newsmag “Turning Point” and to continue as one of the backup anchors on “World News Tonight.”
In addition, Sawyer will contribute to “Day One,” which will move from its 8 p.m. slot to 10 p.m. Monday starting in January 1995, after the “Monday Night Football” season — a move that would potentially leave the network with a night-closing newsmagazine every weeknight but Tuesday. Shifting the news hour would necessitate moving or eliminating the Monday movie, two hours where ABC hasn’t tried regular series since a short-lived attempt in April 1990.
Speculation is that Sawyer will co-anchor “Day One” with the show’s current anchor, Forrest Sawyer (no relation). “People here are already referring to the show as ‘Sawyer and Sawyer,’ ” said one ABC insider.
The working concept at ABC News is to put all the 10 p.m. magazine shows under “an umbrella,” said a senior ABC News executive, while keeping “each show’s individual identity.” That umbrella will have Diane Sawyer’s photo emblazoned on it.
“Diane Sawyer is a giant in the news business, which is why somany news organizations sought her services,” ABC News president Roone Arledge said in a statement. “We’ve been talking about new approaches to newsmagazine programs, and Diane is obviously going to be a major part of anything we do.”
If Sawyer’s picture is plastered on one side of the umbrella, “20/20” anchor Barbara Walters is on the other. Walters will also be one of the rotating anchors on “Turning Point,” along with Peter Jennings, and there’s wishful thinking at ABC that Walters and Sawyer, longtime rivals, will work on joint projects. The whole umbrella concept revolves around getting the ABC newsmags to work in concert instead of in competition, which has too often been the case. Still, ABC News honchos stressed that “the idea is a work in progress.”
Negotiations to keep Sawyer in the fold have reverberated not only inside ABC but throughout the industry, fueling speculation about a new round of salary increases for star talent and the expansion of the primetime news well.
The concept of building a primetime news franchise around Sawyer was first floated at NBC. Web prexy Bob Wright and news division prez Andy Lack attempted to lure her away from ABC by promising an anchor slot, along with Tom Brokaw and others, on a four-night-a-week 10 p.m. newsmag. According to industry sources, a yearly salary estimated to be between $ 8 million and $ 10 million, plus the nightly newsmag gambit, came close to moving Sawyer from ABC to 30 Rock.
Peacock women peeved?
All the attention lavished on Sawyer by NBC bigwigs ruffled the feathers of Peacock web news stars Jane Pauley and Katie Couric, according to 30 Rock insiders. News division spinmeisters deny it. Sawyer and her agent, Richard Leibner, played hardball throughout. The anchor even called in sick for last week’s sweeps episode of “PrimeTime Live.” As late as Tuesday night, Wright and Lack were telling associates they had better than a 50/50 chance of signing the Alphabet web star.
But Wednesday she decided to reup at ABC. Those close to Sawyer said the long negotiations “weren’t about the money” but about her desire to do more reporting from the field.
Sawyer might have left money on the table at other shops, including Fox and CBS. But she didn’t do badly, considering she’s significantly raising her profile and her salary.