ABC Gets a Big Splash from Its Gorgeous New Anchor at the Los Angeles Games

updated 08/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

For viewers of ABC's Los Angeles Olympic coverage, that elegant face seemed to be everywhere—co-hosting daytime segments with Frank Gifford, updating the action on the World News Tonight and later coming on opposite Jim McKay to talk about what the athletes ate and how they warmed up. Almost every time she appeared on camera, ABC's rising new anchor, Kathleen Sullivan, 31, put on a gold-medal show. Even when she faltered or flubbed outright, it didn't seem to matter. She cried while talking with Jeff Blatnick, the American wrestling gold medalist who overcame cancer. In an interview with 1960 Olympian Wilma Rudolph, Sullivan asked how it had felt to carry the Olympic flag—when the flag bearer actually had been 1968 gold medalist Wyomia Tyus. "If anyone else had done it," said a colleague, "it would have been more serious. But the audience is willing to forgive her anything."

Sullivan is the glitziest of a new generation of anchors who have been packaged more for stardom than for news mastery. "The P.T. Barnums have taken over the news business," says a fellow broadcaster, "and Kathleen is a terrific performer." Her regular beat is the co-anchor slot with Steve Bell on ABC's 6 a.m. Washington-based World News This Morning, where she lights up the dawn with a thousand kilowatt smile, enormous doe eyes and a mellow alto voice just on the wholesome side of sexy.

"The first time I heard my voice I hated it," claims Sullivan. Not so the powers in the network. Last winter ABC News and Sports President Roone Arledge picked her for a slot at the Sarajevo Games, where she added flash to nightly updates with Jim Lampley. Cheered SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, "If Sarajevo was Sullivan's trial for L.A., hallelujah."

Arledge is very high on his rising star. "She's Roone's protégée," says a reporter. And Arledge makes no bones about it: "She has a presence that jumps out of the screen, especially her eyes," he has said.

That presence set some kind of record jumping into network television. She was born in Pasadena, Calif., where her mother was a racetrack publicist (her parents split before Kathleen was born). In 1977 she got a job interning in the sports department of Los Angeles station KNXT while attending USC. The next year she dropped out to grab an anchor job on Salt Lake City's KTVX, then leapfrogged to Atlanta as first anchor for Cable News Network. In 1982, at Arledge's instigation, ABC signed her for World News This Morning.

Sullivan has managed each jump with virtually no experience in TV news reporting, the usual ticket to an anchor slot. "I don't think she knows what she's reading sometimes," says a fellow broadcaster. "But it doesn't matter. She's always had star quality."

Some ABC staffers now expect her to make another jump—to the network summit. Says World News This Morning producer Pat Roddy, "She's the No. 1 draft choice at ABC." Kathleen is already being mentioned by insiders as a future prime-time anchor opposite Peter Jennings on World News Tonight, or even an eventual replacement for Ted Koppel on Nightline. "She can do anything," claims Roddy. "The sky's the limit."

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