Weighed as a Future Anchor, Diane Sawyer Joins Toni Morrison's Million-Dollar Men's Club
updated 01/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 01/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
Network executives take Sawyer seriously not because she's a woman but because she's one of the few TV journalists to have the necessary dial-stopping charisma. "Networks are willing to pay her a million dollars for the same reason that Reggie Jackson makes a million," says one network source. "She brings in the audience because she's enormously compelling to watch." When Sawyer co-anchored the CBS Morning News with Bill Kurtis from 1982 to 1984, one colleague says, "Everywhere we went, viewers wanted to know about her."
There's only one hitch: There's no room at the top for Sawyer. At least not right now. Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw—skilled and able-bodied gents all—aren't exactly eager to share their rarefied airspace with a co-of either sex. (When ABC hired Barbara Walters at a million-dollar salary to co-anchor the nightly news with Harry Reasoner in 1976, the shotgun marriage was disastrous in the ratings.) As soon as the rumor floated that ABC was considering pairing Sawyer with Jennings, ABC execs denied it. Ditto NBC. Which left all three networks offering Sawyer something that was the journalistic equivalent of a Joan Rivers slot—a "permanent guest host" to sub when the anchors were away.
The negotiations put Sawyer in an awkward position. Although she had campaigned publicly for the 60 Minutes job, which she landed in 1984, Sawyer was now loath to push hard for co-anchor. "Diane didn't ask to move her chair next to Dan's," says Richard Leibner, her agent (and, coincidentally, Rather's). Published reports that Rather exercised a contractual veto power against having a co-anchor "are a bum rap," says Sawyer, adding, "Dan's been a great friend of mine." Although Rather's contract does not expire for five years, it is possible—although not likely—that the network might consider bringing in Sawyer if Rather's ratings went down.
An extremely hard-working journalist who wears her intelligence as lightly as her golden-girl looks, Sawyer has won acceptance in the 60 Minutes club. "I would've hired her if her name was Tom Sawyer," insists 60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt, who can't understand why Sawyer would consider leaving the highly rated show for "being half an anchor." Yet, says Mike Wallace, "She's got to find her own voice on the show." While her best pieces have been features, adds Wallace, "she wants to do the news." Others reason that becoming an anchor is the logical extension of Sawyer's quick rise through CBS. A former Nixon press aide, she joined the network only eight years ago. "She's driven to succeed," says one colleague, "and now she's put the networks on notice that anchor is the job she wants."