Sawyer reups with ABC for 2 more years

NEW YORK — Star anchor Diane Sawyer has decided to stick with ABC News, at least for two more years.

Sawyer, who had been flirting with a return to CBS, opted against exercising an escape clause in her current contract that would have enabled her to bolt later this year.

Instead, she’ll remain at the Alphabet web, hosting “Prime Time Live” and “Turning Point” while anchoring occasional specials or contributing to “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings.” Her contract will remain in force through mid-1999.

Despite some recent turmoil at ABC News, Sawyer’s decision had been expected following both the appointment of David Westin to run ABC News with Roone Arledge and Bryant Gumbel’s move from NBC to CBS, where he’s already been guaranteed a primetime hour this fall.

“She never really said she wasn’t going to stay,” said ABC News chairman Roone Arledge, claiming she was merely “wrestling with what she wants to do.” He said he hopesSawyer will “do more” at the network, but said neither the terms nor the scope of her existing contract have changed. Sawyer takes home a $7 million annual paycheck.

Sawyer couldn’t be reached for comment, but said in a statement that “ABC has been my home for eight wonderful years, and we have so much work still to be done together.” Her agent, Richard Leibner, denied that Gumbel’s move played a factor in her decision and said Sawyer never entered into serious negotiations with CBS. A CBS exec confirmed that scenario, saying preliminary talks with Sawyer had cooled in recent weeks.

Separately, Arledge confirmed speculation that ABC is weighing some staff consolidations at “Prime Time Live” and “20/20,” the Friday newsmag anchored by Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs, mainly to eliminate overlaps in booking and other areas. But he said it was likely both programs would retain their separate identities

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