He recommended Westin for a job as anchor of Bloomberg Television's new morning show, "Bloomberg Go," which debuts Monday at 7 a.m. After many years behind the scenes in television, Westin will step in front of the camera for three hours each weekday morning. He and co-anchor Stephanie Ruhle will talk about the day's news filtered for a business audience.
Justin Smith, chief executive of Bloomberg Media, was considering revamping the network's morning lineup when he kicked around ideas over lunch with the now-retired Gibson. When the talk turned to anchors, Gibson asked, "how willing are you to step outside the box?"
"We were looking for something out of the box," Smith recalled. "That was the founding principle of our search."
Gibson suggested Westin, and he checked a lot of boxes: smart with wide-ranging tastes, knowledgeable about business and television and familiar to company founder Michael Bloomberg. Westin's job at ABC often required him to be the subject of on-air interviews, like when Peter Jennings died and Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq.
"I actually suggested to him years ago that he ought to replace me on 'Good Morning America' — you'd make more money and you wouldn't have to fire people," Gibson said.
Westin, 63, had faced skeptics when appointed ABC News president in 1997. A corporate lawyer who had clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court, he had no TV news experience. Since leaving ABC News in 2010 he's been running his own investment firm and consulting, most prominently for Yahoo.
Smith broached the idea of anchoring over a lunch in June and the deal was done in three days.
"Whenever I went on the air, somebody would say, 'you know, you should do this,'" Westin said, "and (I'd say) sure, sure. The thought of it planted in my mind, but it was not something I aspired to. If I were 22 again, maybe I would think about doing that, but I'm not 22."
At Bloomberg, he said that "I want to do the news program that I always wanted to put on the air and, for various constraints, never got to."
That's not an intentional dig at "Good Morning America." The broadcast morning shows have always been hybrids of news and entertainment, with ratings pressure only getting more acute, he said. "Go" won't be rated (Bloomberg believes the Nielsen ratings poorly reflect its audience because so many people watch in offices). Success will be measured by more engaged viewership — people turning up the volume on desk-top screens that might otherwise be muted.
While general audiences may be interested in the news, it usually doesn't affect them. For Bloomberg's audience, stories like the Iran deal and presidential politics can impact how they do business.
Westin and Ruhle will tap into the expertise of Bloomberg reporters and outside experts, even consulting Bloomberg's famed desktop terminal for data.
"We're trying to create the smartest morning television program for arguably the smartest viewers in the world — leaders of business, finance and government," Smith said.
Since Bloomberg feeds a strong market in video streams of business content, the show is being designed to be bite-friendly for a busy audience: a 10-minute interview with a CEO, for example, may be doled out in two-minute increments.
Westin called many of the anchors who worked for him upon getting the job — Gibson, Ted Koppel, Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos. He already has a new appreciation for things they once told him that he never quite understood.
He remembers offering Stephanopoulos advice not to overstuff interviews, to concentrate on making a few strong points. Now he's finding that time moves quickly on-air and, in practice shows, has fallen into some of the same traps. Gibson said Westin will also face an adjustment in not being the boss.
Anchoring is a unique skill, requiring him to keep the mechanics of a show moving, talk intelligently on many topics and look relaxed doing it. Westin will learn on the fly, three solid hours a day.
"It's insane," he said. "It's a very big challenge and I hope I don't underestimate it."
Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder
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