When he's 64 . . . even if only for a few more days
03/04/08 12:38 PM
By ED BARK
Here's a guy who knows how to act his age -- and figures it's a plus having more birthdays in the bag than his principal dinner hour news competitors.
"Being a little bit older than the baby boomers is probably not a bad position to be in," World News anchor Charles Gibson says after spending the top of Tuesday's 9 a.m. hour as a guest on WFAA8's Good Morning Texas. "You tend to look at slightly older people and pay a little more attention to them. So that probably works a little bit in my favor."
Ah, but a big one's coming up. Gibson turns 65 on Sunday (March 9), putting him 14 years ahead of CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric and 17 up on NBC Nightly News standardbearer Brian Williams, with whom he's locked in an airtight week-to-week ratings battle.
"I haven't signed up for Medicare yet, but I'm going to," says Gibson, who's been World News' anchor since May 29, 2006.
That's something a regular guy would say. And he still seems to be very much just that while sipping a Diet Coke, navigating a sticky sweet roll and recalling how he got passed over the first time by ABC News president David Westin after telling him, "I think you're pretty well set up for an old male white fart like me."
The network thought otherwise, settling on the much younger duo of Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas as anchors heralding a ballyhooed new age at ABC News. But his tragic injuries while covering the Iraq war and her unplanned pregnancy put Gibson back in favor. And he's been a solid pro player ever since, catching Nightly News in the ratings while both programs continue to distance themselves from Couric in the national Nielsens.
In D-FW, though, Gibson's World News remains a runaway No.1 while Williams and Couric battle for second place. In the just-concluded February "sweeps," the ABC program averaged 151,007 homes per weeknight, with NBC at 99,560 and CBS with 90,117.
Still, Gibson talks informally, but hardly specifically, about the need for ABC to plan for a successor at some yet uncharted later date.
"I don't know how long I'll do this, but I'm still having a great time," he says. "It's not as hard as I expected it to be, and this is all like an added chapter that I thought I'd never have . . . But I think I'll know when the time comes. You don't want to stay as long as (David) Brinkley did. David stayed too long. He had a great career, and you've got to know when it's time to leave."
Gibson, who's anchoring Tuesday's World News from Dallas and also contributing to a WFAA8 prime-time election special, is now using some of the senior elixirs that dominate advertising on all three network newscasts. But no, he says when asked, 65 is definitely not the new 55.
"Sixty-five is the new 65. There's no way you can sugar-coat it. I was on the treadmill the other day, and was very cognizant of the fact that I'm not 55 anymore. Indeed I've gravitated more to using the stationery bike because my knees can't take the treadmill. And I ain't losin' any weight when I'm on the treadmill anyway. I've gotta lose some weight.
"The golf club doesn't go as far back as it used to. I don't ski as fast as I used to. I forget names faster, and I fight more for words. It's dreadful. My brother-in-law used to say, 'When you're 50 and you wake up and nothing hurts, you're dead.' And I think that's probably true."
There's that tangible common touch again. But Gibson still has an aversion to chumming it up with late night talk show hosts -- and certainly to hosting Saturday Night Live.
Brian did a terrific job at it," Gibson says, referring to Williams' stint last fall on the last SNL before the writers' strike. "It's just not my cup of tea. It's not something I feel comfortable doing. I'd be terrible at it, and I'm from the older school probably.
"I also haven't said yes to Jon Stewart (and The Daily Show) yet. I have this sort of basic gut instinct that the focus needs to be on the reporting. I understand that an anchor is one of the reasons you watch or don't watch a news program. But the idea of an anchor as a personality is somewhat anathema to me."
It's no longer a novelty for presidential candidates to laugh it up with late night comics. Hillary Clinton, for one, guested on Late Show with David Letterman on the eve of Super Tuesday, made a surprise SNL appearance Saturday and joined Stewart via satellite from Austin during the night before the pivotal Texas and Ohio primaries.
"It's a humanizing thing, and I think it's fine as long as you don't do anything to demean yourself or in any way compromise your dignity," Gibson says. "People don't distinguish anymore between World News and NBC Nightly News and Oprah. It's all information. If you can go on these programs and project a more winning personality, I don't think there's anything wrong with it."
He's had it with the current run-up to the presidency, though. Loving politics is one thing, and Gibson savors the possibility of Democrats Clinton and Barack Obama battling all the way to the April 22nd Pennsylvania primary and perhaps beyond.
He otherwise champions a new regimen of four regional primaries that would go to the front or back of the line on a rotating basis.
"What you do with Iowa and New Hampshire, I don't know," Gibson says. "But I've come to believe that this is a crazy system we're in. It's sort of a crap shoot as to what states are going to be important, and I hate the idea of them all jockeying for position.
"Then there's terrible, terrible situation the Democrats have with Michigan and Florida (and how or whether to seat the states' convention delegates). Howard Dean (The Democratic national chairman) desperately wants this thing to be over before they get to the convention because he doesn't want to have to face the mistake he's made."
However it all pans out, Gibson will be leading his network's news division all the way to election day. And it doesn't get any sweeter than that for a guy who once simply aspired to be "a reporter on a network television news show."
"And I got there," he says. "Everything else after that has been gravy. There are still only three jobs like I have in all of network television. How cool is that?"