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New World News Tonight team makes debut

Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff take over for the late Peter Jennings
In this photo released by ABC News, anchor person Elizabeth Vargas is seated on the set of World News Tonight at ABC News headquarters in New York City, Tuesday, Jan 3, 2006 on her first official day as co-anchor. Donna Svennevik / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

With little fanfare Tuesday, ABC News debuted its anchor team of Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff on “World News Tonight” and a 15-minute Webcast that previewed the broadcast 3½ hours earlier.

Vargas and Woodruff replaced the late Peter Jennings on ABC News’ signature show — the first duo on a network evening newscast since Dan Rather and Connie Chung’s awkward pairing on CBS more than a decade ago.

With Vargas standing behind a glass desk in ABC’s New York studio and Woodruff on a street in Iran, the two had little interaction. Woodruff reported stories on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and the country’s youthful fun-seekers.

“We’ll see you tomorrow night, Bob,” Vargas said to him.

Both anchors stuck strictly to the news, neither acknowledging it was their first day on the new job. Vargas and Woodruff had been among the substitute anchors for Jennings after cancer took him off the air in April and later killed him, usually working alone.

ABC hopes to keep one of the anchors on the road to news stories. Woodruff’s Iran trip was a nod to the “World News Tonight” international heritage, although it was overshadowed by the day’s major story of trapped coal miners in West Virginia.

Vargas and Woodruff begin their new roles with the past year’s turmoil catching up to “World News Tonight.” It has slipped farther behind NBC’s top-rated “Nightly News” in the ratings and lately has been closer to the third-place “CBS Evening News.”

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Except for the new faces and some new graphics, it was a broadcast familiar to long-time Jennings fans.

Many West Coast viewers will have to wait to see the new team: “World News Tonight” was pre-empted for a football game Tuesday for just over 13 percent of its regular viewers, and will be again on Wednesday. On Thursday, “World News Tonight” will begin airing live broadcasts tailored for the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

The 15-minute afternoon Webcast, however, was something new to the network competition and goes one step beyond NBC, which in the fall began making reruns of “Nightly News” available over the Internet three hours after first airing on the East Coast.

ABC’s Webcast debuted live at 3 p.m. It both telegraphed the later “World News Tonight” and had different twists on the material.

After opening with a cereal commercial, Vargas gave a two-minute briefing on stories that were later handled in more depth on “World News Tonight.” There were also abbreviated versions of feature stories, such as Woodruff’s piece on the leisure activities of Iranian youth.

What set it apart from “World News Tonight” was by having Vargas interview her colleagues about the stories they were working on. She conducted conversations with Woodruff about Iran, with correspondent David Kerley about the mine explosion and George Stephanopoulos on the Washington lobbying scandal.

Vargas told computer users that the Webcast, dubbed “World News Now,” was making its bow.