Cairo trip highlights shift for Amanpour
Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 7:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 7:35 p.m.
NEW YORK — Christiane Amanpour stood on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday in a khaki shirt with a backdrop of Cairo in crisis, rattling off reports from the street in Egypt and noting the presence of flyovers by fighter jets in what she described as eardrum-ripping sound.
With a little imagination, you could see the Amanpour who was, in her heyday at CNN, American television's best-known foreign TV correspondent, rather than the woman who has struggled for footing since taking over ABC's Washington-based Sunday morning show last summer.
"We've all seen dozens of those over the years," said James Goldston, executive producer of "This Week." ''It was good to see it again."
Amanpour was on one of the few flights to arrive in Cairo on Saturday, coming in to an airport crowded with people anxious to get out. She described a nighttime journey into the heart of the city being stopped regularly at security checkpoints and passing by armed vigilantes protecting their property from looters.
"While it was tense, it was also friendly," she said.
She talked via satellite to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who also appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and CBS' "Face the Nation," and the Egyptian ambassador to Washington, "because there are no government officials we can speak to in Cairo." She interviewed Nobel Peace laureate and democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei at his home (ElBaradei was also interviewed on "Face the Nation").
ABC has been working to fix "This Week" on the fly, and the past month has illustrated the new direction.
The Sunday show had been knocking on the door of first place in the Sunday ratings before anchorman George Stephanopoulos departed for "Good Morning America." Jake Tapper filled in as host for several months before Amanpour, in a somewhat surprising move, was selected over him for the permanent role.
Since then, ABC has steadily occupied third in the ratings. Last week, David Gregory's "Meet the Press" had 3.4 million viewers, Bob Schieffer's "Face the Nation" had 3.1 million, Amanpour had 2.6 million and Chris Wallace's "Fox News Sunday" had 1.4 million, the Nielsen Co. said. Goldston conceded the long transition hurt the show's standings with viewers.
"Our challenge is to do the right show for Christiane to showcase our strengths," new ABC News President Ben Sherwood said at a news conference three weeks ago in California.
For three of the past four weeks, Amanpour has anchored the show from remote locations outside of Washington: Sunday in Egypt, in Tucson, Ariz., on the day after the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and back to Tucson a week later for a town meeting. On Jan. 9 in Tucson, "This Week" had its biggest audience in two years, although that probably had more to do with viewers curious about the shooting than where Amanpour was located.
Traveling to locations gives "This Week" a chance to distinguish itself from its rivals, Goldston said.
"The premise of the show is to take the viewers wherever the most important story is happening, and not just to talk about the biggest stories," he said.
Besides adding perspective, the travels have led to a more engaged Amanpour, who's "come out roaring" since the beginning of the new year, he said.
The show's Washington-based staff was also calmed by Sherwood's statement earlier this month that he expected its base of operations to remain there. There had been questions about whether a move to New York was afoot, since both Goldston — who's also the executive in charge of "Nightline" — and Amanpour are both personally centered in that city.
Despite troubles for other news organizations in Egypt — some said its reporters had been beaten and the Arab network Al- Jazeera said Sunday that government authorities ordered its Cairo bureau shut down — "This Week" accomplished its remote broadcast with only one hitch. The satellite link to Amanpour was lost toward the end of her interview with former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Tapper, who conducted the show's round-table discussion, jumped in to end that interview and Amanpour was back by the show's end.
With Amanpour, Goldston said he was proud to have an anchorwoman on scene who doesn't flinch when jet fighters roar overhead. He said he didn't see it, but on "Face the Nation," a clearly rattled correspondent Elizabeth Palmer stopped her discussion with Schieffer in mid-sentence when the flighters went by.
"Clearly, Christiane Amanpour is the foremost foreign correspondent of our time," he said. "Part of the reason she's at ABC is to bring insight into these types of stories."