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Old News?

This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore Watching Television for KCRW, and saying good-bye... good-bye to Katie Couric, who, of course, last week left NBC's Today show after 15 years.

I think we're all gonna remember where we were at that moment when she thanked us denizens of TV Land, then vanished into the night -- er, I should say, mid-morning. And we'll sure miss her. For three long months, clear to September, when she climbs into the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News. Maybe then, our healing can begin.

But luckily at this challenging time, ABC's Charles Gibson is there for us. Lots!

We can still catch him on Good Morning America, where he's been a fixture much of the past two decades and will stick around through June.

And last week he began his reign as anchor of World News Tonight.

His anointing six days earlier was the latest in the turbulent saga that began last year with the fatal illness of Peter Jennings, followed this January by the grave injury of Bob Woodruff less than a month after he had stepped in as co-anchor with Elizabeth Vargas, whose current difficult pregnancy is the stated reason why she has just made her departure from the anchor desk.

But is installing good ol' comfortable Charlie Gibson the best way to reinvigorate World News Tonight -- a broadcast that, along with its two rivals at what we used to call the dinner hour, suffers steadily eroding usefulness and viewership?

Like NBC Nightly News and the CBS Evening News, World News Tonight clings to its status as its network's flagship newscast. And also clings to the presumption that whoever presides from its anchor chair must therefore be the face of the network's news division.

Even so, many 21st-century viewers regard these twilight headline services as a quaint anachronism in an age of moment-to-moment information assault. Meanwhile, breakfast newscasts are where the growth and money are.

With the Charles Gibson-Diane Sawyer team having proven to be worthy competition for longtime ratings leader Today (which with Katie gone is now conceivably vulnerable), why the shakeup at GMA?

And for World News Tonight, why not seize on a big new idea instead of a familiar old face? Why not retool that broadcast as a distinctive alternative, geared to the future, as it vies for a greater share of what, even now, totals 25 million viewers split between the three shows?

Sure, bringing to fruition a big new idea (and don't ask me what it should be) would take vision and nerve. But ABC's newscast hasn't been setting the world on fire anyway -- and in three months it confronts not only NBC's Brian Williams, the ratings champ, but also, as if we could forget, that very popular Katie Couric.

The evening newscasts are institutions more than a half-century old. But Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, who lent them a veneer of stability for decades, are history.

Now, welcome to World News Tonight Charles Gibson, who, at age 63, is just one year younger than Brokaw and, for that matter, Walter Cronkite, when they retired! At a time when Gibson's newscast could use some long-range reimagining, it's hard not to see him as a stopgap. It seems he's there as an old pro making the best of a bad situation ... at best.

Watching Television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.

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