Going into the upfronts last week, no one suspected that newsmags — often the overlooked stepchildren of the primetime sked — would make such a scene.
Both the Alphabet and the Eye announced big changes for their respective mags, in part because of the upcoming exits of Barbara Walters from her longtime anchor seat on ABC News’ “20/20” and exec producer Don Hewitt from CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”
The retirement of the two broadcast news icons means a new legion of faces and even a new attitude for the respective shows, and the upfront presentations provided the right opportunity to prepare Madison Ave.
ABC News announced that correspondent Elizabeth Vargas will replace Walters as co-anchor of “20/20,” which will remain in its 10 p.m. Friday slot on the new fall sked. Vargas joins co-anchor John Stossel.
Alphabet also informed media buyers that “20/20” has closed a deal to bring Brit TV journalist Martin Bashir on as correspondent. Bashir, whose “Living With Michael Jackson” documentary was seen last year on ABC by a whopping 27 million people, will arrive at “20/20” this summer.
Considering that “20/20” and “60 Minutes” were the only two network newsmags to hold their own in the ratings this TV season, ABC wants to make sure that advantage isn’t lost.
At the Eye’s upfront session, CBS prexy-CEO Leslie Moonves — who has been known to micromanage the news division — announced that spin-off “60 Minutes II” will be renamed “60 Minutes” proper on the fall sked.
(This after speculation that Moonves was considering yanking “60 II” altogether or relocating it elsewhere on the sked.)
The original “60 Minutes” will stay in its longtime 7 p.m. Sunday slot, while the other “60” will remain in its 8 p.m. Wednesday slot.
CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward said the two shows would remain editorially independent, and that the rename was simply the best way to validate the spin-off as the real deal.
But several CBS News staffers said the move made no sense, considering that “60 II” has developed its own identity. And if CBS ends up differentiating the weekday edition from the Sunday show by calling it “60 Minutes Wednesday,” it could sound similar to the way NBC News has differentiated its various “Datelines.”
“60 II” exec producer Jeff Fager will replace Hewitt as exec producer of the Sunday show, while Hewitt’s No. 1, Josh Howard, will take over for Fager.
Moonves also announced a revamp for “48 Hours Investigates,” which will move from Wednesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. in the fall under the new name “48 Hours Mystery,” kicking off the Eye’s new “Crimetime Saturday.”
It’s unlikely that the renamed show will have a host. Current host is Lesley Stahl.
With newsmags increasingly criticized for being used to promote entertainment skeds, Heyward said “48 Hours Mystery” would meet all news standards, with no actors or reenactments.
“48 Hours Mystery” borrows from “48 Hours Mysteries,” which has aired during the past several summers.
In addition to the changes at “20/20,” ABC announced that it would take “Primetime” live in the fall, hoping to set the show apart from the pack.
Broadcasting live means expanding the pool of co-anchors, with ABC News announcing that correspondents Chris Cuomo, Cynthia McFadden and John Quinones will join Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson as co-anchors in September.
“Primetime Live” will remain in its current 10 p.m. ET Thursday slot.