Inside Move: Walters will ankle ’20/20′

Journo to remain active member of news division

After 25 years as co-host and chief correspondent, Barbara Walters has decided to ankle ABC News’ “20/20” effective in September, according to a posting on the ABC News Web site.

Walters will remain an active member of the news division, increasing the number of primetime ABC News specs, in addition to doing her “Barbara Walters Specials,” ABC News prexy David Westin announced.

” ’20/20′ has been an integral part of my life and a major focus of my work,” Walters said in a press release. “Starting in September, I want to have more flexibility in my life without the responsibilities of a weekly newsmagazine.”

Walters, the first woman to anchor a network evening news broadcast when she signed with ABC News in 1976, remains executive producer and co-host of ABC Daytime’s “The View.”

She joined “20/20” in 1979 and shared co-host duties with Hugh Downs until his departure in 1999. Recently, longtime contributor John Stossel was tapped as the show’s co-anchor.

While ABC will position Walters’ announcement as her own decision — and there’s no evidence to suggest otherwise — her move will no doubt be greeted enthusiastically at ABC’s Burbank headquarters.

That’s because with Walters no longer anchoring “20/20,” it’ll be much easier to move the newsmag to another night in order to make room for a scripted drama series. ABC has reversed its fortunes on Friday nights, and now boasts a modestly successful 8-10 p.m. comedy block with youth appeal.

“20/20,” however, skews older. Assuming the net’s development goes well, it seems all but a given that ABC will look to build on its Friday scripted success from 8-10 p.m. by skedding a drama in place of the newsmag. Several hourlong projects in development would fit perfectly Fridays at 10.

At the same time, “20/20” has enjoyed a solid season, up in key demos vs. last season. Ironically, show delivered some of its best young-adult results in two years this past Friday when Stossel fronted the special “Lies, Myths and Downright Stupidity.”

It marked a rare “20/20” to not feature Walters.

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