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Archive for Tuesday, August 27, 2002

ABC keeps Jennings anchored

August 27, 2002

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— Here's one story you won't be hearing from Peter Jennings: whether he's agreed to a new contract to stay as top anchor at ABC News.

The 63-year-old "World News Tonight" anchor refused comment on his contractual status Monday, except to say one newspaper report that he has accepted a new long-term deal was "not entirely accurate."

But Jennings already has signed an agreement to stay at ABC, according to a source close to the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It would make sense: Jennings will narrate a six-part series, "In Search of America," on ABC prime-time Sept. 3-7 and anchor the network's Sept. 11 anniversary coverage both after the expiration of his old contract.

"If there were going to be some significant change in personnel at ABC News, we would announce that," ABC News President David Westin said.

Together with Tom Brokaw at NBC and Dan Rather at CBS, Jennings is one of the troika of chief network anchors who have dominated their news divisions for two decades. He has been sole anchor of "World News Tonight" since September 1983.

His current contract was believed to have been in the $10 million a year range, and there were reports last spring that ABC's parent Walt Disney Co. wanted him to take a pay cut.

His new deal doesn't reduce his salary, the source said. But Jennings agreed not to invoke a clause in his old contract that required ABC to pay him more than it does any other colleague. Executives were concerned that clause could spark a round of salary inflation at ABC News.

After the public controversy last spring over whether David Letterman would replace Ted Koppell, Disney doubtless wanted to avoid another public fight with a top news personality.

"World News Tonight" usually finishes a close second to NBC's "Nightly News" in the ratings, and won outright a handful of weeks this summer. The ABC broadcast has gained more viewers than its two rivals since Sept. 11, an impressive feat considering ABC's collapse in primetime over the same period.

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