As ABC staffers came to grips Monday with the death of the man who personified the network's news division, industry sources said that "Good Morning America" co-anchor Charlie Gibson was among the likely candidates to succeed Peter Jennings in the anchor chair.
An ABC News spokesman stressed that it would not name a new anchor for the broadcast for an indeterminate amount of time. Indeed, the news division was in a period of mourning Monday after the news of Jennings' passing broke late Sunday, when he died of inoperable lung cancer at his Manhattan home. He was 67. Jennings hadn't been on the air since the April 5 announcement of his illness.
Gibson and ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas had been filling in for Jennings since then. That's still the plan for the time being, ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said.
"It is far too premature for us to even think about that," Schneider said. "Charlie and Elizabeth will continue to anchor the broadcast," reports CNN.
According to Reuters, broadcast journalists have admired Gibson's stamina in juggling the demands of "GMA" and "World News Tonight" but said it's unlikely that he could keep it up forever.
"You can't do both. It wears you down," said one.
William Lord, a former "World News Tonight" executive producer who teaches at Boston University, said Jennings will be difficult to replace.
"There was only one Peter Jennings. Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather in a sense could have come out of the same shoot. They both had the same domestic experience, reporting from Washington," Lord said. "Peter was different, and that was ultimately to our benefit. He came from a totally different world view."
Joe Angotti, a former NBC News executive who teaches at Monmouth College in Illinois, said it shows how NBC News was wise in setting up a succession plan when Brokaw left. He thinks that despite the changes at the top of the evening newscasts, the form is still vital and will remain strong.
"A new generation is going to replace the previous generation of anchormen, just as Cronkite was replaced, just as Huntley-Brinkley was replaced by a new generation," Angotti said Monday. "The new generation is already there in (NBC anchor) Brian Williams, and there will be others."
CBS2 anchorman Erik Sandoval recalls the first time he took notice of Peter Jennings, when the Americans held hostage in Iran were released in 1981. The coverage quickly trumped his Cub Scout meeting. "Peter Jennings, wall-to-wall the kind of thing where you pulled up the chair or the ottoman and paid attention to what was happening.
"He was a fixture in my household growing up," Sandoval says.
Brooke Beare, I-Team reporter at CBS2, expressed sadness over Jennings' passing. "For some reason, you think a journalist of that caliber is invincible," she says. Beare was moved by his tone during the coverage of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"You could see the grief and compassion. For someone of my generation, that was really a relatable moment," she says to The Desert Sun.