NEW YORK: ABC News is facing tough questions about the future of its trademark programs after a double dose of bad news from two esteemed anchors.
On March 31, Ted Koppel announced that he would leave Nightline, a program he has hosted for more than 25 years, in December. Just days later, World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings, a 40-year veteran of the network, revealed that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and would have to undergo chemotherapy.
In a statement, the network said Jennings would still anchor the show, and that hosts, such as Elizabeth Vargas and Charlie Gibson, would fill in if needed.
But the stopgap solution has not stopped observers from questioning the viability of ABC's news operation - or the wisdom of neglecting to breed replacements for older anchors.
Brad Phillips, a former production coordinator on Nightline who now owns his own PR firm, said the network made a mistake in not grooming an obvious successor for Jennings.
"The day of the star anchor at ABC News is over, " he said. "The news about Peter Jennings may be the tipping point that dismantles the news division."
A source at ABC News dismissed such claims as "absurd."
"ABC News has the deepest bench of any news organization and is fortunate to have numerous people we can turn to in a case like this," the source said.
Dr. Richard Goedkoop, professor of communication at La Salle University, said the timing of the announcements is unfortunate, as Koppel could have filled in for Jennings in the short term. He added that ABC didn't have time to prepare, as did CBS and NBC in similar situations.
"If it's going to be a musical chairs situation, it could be problematic for [ABC]," Goedkoop said.