ABC News’ World News Tonight with David Muir is riding high with ratings that rival primetime network shows, but earlier this year Disney executive chairman Bob Iger had to step in to broker a peace deal between anchors Muir and George Stephanopoulos.
The issue at hand was the title, “chief anchor,” which comes with coveted TV news responsibilities: leading special coverage of breaking news stories and special events. Stephanopoulos had this role for more than a decade, and according to sources the title was invented for him.
Over the years, Stephanopoulos played a key role in ABC News programming, anchoring elections, presidential inaugurations and a pair of impeachments.
Since taking over as lead anchor for World News Tonight from Diane Sawyer, Muir saw an increase in viewers and raised his profile within the company and in TV news. At some point ABC execs decided that the 47-year-old would take over responsibilities and be tasked with handling special reports.
Varying sources have their own reasoning for why this happened, depending on who was asked, either “David hated being sidelined until 6:30,” to host the nightly news, according to one source, while a pal close to Muir says “ABC asked him to step up.”
As in many TV jobs, egos and rivalries clearly came into play. The insider stressed that the growing tension between Muir and Stephanopoulos was an “open secret” within ABC News.
“This was always going to blow up at some point,” a source added. Stephanopoulos learned that Muir would be “chief anchor” in spirit, though not in title, and he felt betrayed by ABC News president James Goldston, which prompted him to forego the chain of command and go all the way to the top and speak to Iger.
With the possibility that Stephanopoulos would walk to a rival network, Iger knew he had to step in and figure out a solution. Iger allegedly hopped on a plane to New York and worked out a deal that would appease both anchors.
Muir is said to have quietly signed a multi-year contract, and was asked to wait until 2021 to take over special report programming, and at the time was told “chief anchor” title would no longer exist. Muir will remain the face of the news division and continue to anchor World News Tonight for the foreseeable future.
Stephanopoulos received a contract extension, as well as a significant pay raise, according to sources close to the matter. The contract extension for Stephanopoulos involves a production company that will work on projects for Disney's streaming platforms and other outlets. "This was a deal he jumped at," a source close to him added. He will continue to cohost Good Morning America and will helm four primetime specials on the network each year.
The insider concluded that ABC execs "found a way to have two big stars and build towards the future."