Roberts ankles spot on ABC’s ‘This Week’

Stewart potential replacement for Letterman or Koppel?

NEW YORK — “This Week’s” Cokie Roberts will ankle the Sunday morning poli-gabber this November — another sign of the changing times at ABC News.

Resignation, which will end her 14-year association with the show, coincides with the end of her contract this fall.

“This Week” co-anchor Sam Donaldson may also be on the way out, according to a published report.

“I said I would only do the program through the November 2002 elections,” she said. “I reminded my masters of that within the last couple of weeks, and I really wasn’t kidding, so we started some very preliminary conversations about what else I might do.”

ABC contributor George Stephanopoulos and ex-NBC correspondent Claire Shipman have been mentioned as possible replacements for Roberts and her co-host Donaldson, though the Alphabet had no comment on that speculation.

Roberts confirmed her departure from “This Week” following months of rumors about the future of the Sunday skein, which regularly finishes behind NBC’s dominant “Meet the Press.”

“Because of reports of things were happening, I felt like I was in a position where people were calling me and I wasn’t going to lie,” said Roberts, who is under contract to write a book about women and history for William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins. She also said that she plans to spend more time with her grandchildren.

Roberts’ announcement comes at a delicate time for the Alphabet’s news department, which is still reeling from word that ABC execs have been negotiating to bring David Letterman in as a replacement for “Nightline” and Ted Koppel.

In his first comments since the Letterman news broke, Koppel had some feisty words for those who would label his show “irrelevant.” Writing in Tuesday’s New York Times, Koppel rejected an anonymous Disney exec’s assertion that his show has lost its relevance and is unprofitable.

” ‘Nightline’ has earned well over half a billion dollars for a succession of corporate owners over the years,” he said.

In the meantime, seasoned ABC newspeople were giving Koppel verbal high-fives. On Tuesday’s “The View,” Barbara Walters indirectly upbraided her conglom. “To be treated as dispensable and irrelevant is thoughtless and hurtful,” she said.

At an Hollywood Radio and Television Society lunch in Beverly Hills, Sam Donaldson also joined the chorus of dissent, saying that ABC is “breaking eggshells, and I hope that they don’t end up hurting Ted.”

Meanwhile, industry pundits continue to speculate about other late-night players who might be ready to switch jobs should Letterman jump to ABC.

Jon Stewart, the arch joker from Comedy Central, is constantly mentioned as a potential replacement for Letterman or Koppel. CBS execs have been keeping open the lines of communication with Stewart in recent weeks, though there’s no indication that any formal talks have started.

Eye execs obviously like Stewart: He’s hosted the net’s Grammy Awards for the past two years. Funnyman also once had a holding deal with CBS to develop programming, though nothing ever came of that deal.

Agent James Dixon did not wish to comment about his client Stewart. “I can’t talk about this right now,” said Dixon, an independent tenpercenter.

Stewart’s contract at Comedy Central ends in January. The fact that the cabler is half-owned by the Eye may lead some to wonder why the network doesn’t muscle in, snap up the 39-year-old at a bargain price from its related company and eat the rest of his deal.

(Susanne Ault contributed to this report.)

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