PASADENA, Calif. – ABC News said it's changing the name of its evening newscast to reflect both new anchorman Charles Gibson and an expansion into the digital realm, including an afternoon webcast.
The change from "World News Tonight" to "World News with Charles Gibson" occurred Wednesday evening.
Underscoring the fact that "World" remains part of the title, Gibson and executive producer Jon Banner revealed the change at a meeting of the Television Critics Association. The pair talked to reporters via satellite from the Middle East, where they are covering the violence between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
The new name acknowledges what's been taking place over the last six months, said Banner.
With a webcast downloaded up to 2 million times a week through the Internet and iTunes, a network blog updated throughout the day and Gibson's participation in a 5 p.m. EDT ABC News Radio broadcast, "`World News' is not on only at night," Banner said.
And it's "about time" Gibson's name was added, Banner said.
"He's our anchor that's provided us with stability and momentum, so it's only right that the broadcast bears his name," the producer said.
Gibson joked that his former ABC home would be retitled as well: "They're gonna call it `Good Morning America without Charlie Gibson.'"
ABC named its newscast "World News Tonight" in 1978 with the debut of anchormen Frank Reynolds, Peter Jennings and Max Robinson. It became "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings" in 1984, then dropped Jennings' name after his death from cancer in August 2005.
Gibson acknowledged the events that brought him to the anchor job held briefly by the team of Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas, before Woodruff was injured covering the Iraq war and Vargas stepped down because of pregnancy. The broadcast was never named "World News Tonight with Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff."
"I'm sort of an accident of circumstances, but happy to be here," Gibson said.
His trip to the Middle East is the first since taking over as anchor in May and reflects the story's importance, he said. Gibson and Banner were in Cypress to cover the evacuation of Americans from Lebanon.
Brian Williams of "NBC Nightly News" also was anchoring from the region.
While acknowledging that correspondents know an area and its issues best, Gibson said putting an anchor onsite can call attention to a story. He emphasized the importance of maintaining foreign bureaus and network funds for them.
"To all the network executives that are in the room," he said, speaking long distance to those gathered at the Pasadena news conference, "I want to make a budget pitch. It's really important, really important."
Former ABC newsman Ted Koppel, in an appearance earlier this month before the critics' group, had criticized networks for failing to have enough overseas bureaus.
Asked the status of ABC's foreign presence, Banner said he couldn't immediately provide specifics, but that there had been a significant increase over the past five years.
With Katie Couric's arrival in September as the new CBS anchor, Gibson was queried about how the fall news contest was shaping up.
"I understand why you (reporters) focus on the competitive aspects of this and make it sort of `Charlie v. Katie v. Brian,' but I don't really look at it that way," he said. "I just think these are great programs and they are the end-of-the-day product of extraordinary news divisions."
But he showed a flash of competitiveness: "These are three great news organizations. I happen to think ours is the best, and so let's get it on."
He quickly added that he meant that in the context of striving to provide a "fair, objective summation" of the day's news.
He traded a bit of delayed banter with Couric. When she appeared before TV critics Sunday and was asked what she would wear for her debut, she replied: "I've actually gone to Charlie Gibson's stylist."
Leveling the playing field between male and female anchors, a similar wardrobe question was posed to Gibson. What label was he wearing?
"I don't know. Ask Katie," he replied. "I have four ties and five suits and whichever one is to the right of the closet, that's the one I put on."