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Charles Gibson says goodbye to his ABC News career

THE SHOW "World News With Charles Gibson"

WHEN | WHEREFriday night at 6:30 on ABC/7

REASON TO WATCH The end of a very public 34-year career before the cameras at ABC News.

WHAT TONIGHT'S ABOUT There will be news, and there will be a familiar anchor to relay it. But expect a soft landing a few minutes before 7 p.m. - a long and illustrious career doesn't and shouldn't end without some fond remembrances, and maybe . . . nah, no tears. This is Gibson. Leave the tears to Glenn Beck.

MY SAY What a curious career this has been, in fact. Charlie Gibson, now 66, joined ABC News in 1975, covered Gerald Ford's presidential campaign, later the House of Representatives, and promptly had "contender" branded in big, bold letters on his future. There was only one problem. Peter Jennings - one of the most naturally gifted anchors ever, whose future was even bigger and bolder - was one step ahead.

Jennings was named part of a three-man team on "World News Tonight" in 1978 and wouldn't leave until the year of his death, 2005. What was Charlie to do? Gracious and loyal, he did what he was eventually told - replace David Hartman on "Good Morning America," where he was paired with Joan Lunden. Gibson gave the program class and dignity - almost unheard of in the tumult of morning TV - but numbers as well.

For a time, "GMA" beat "Today," which had bumbled the Jane Pauley transition. After he left in '98, "GMA" collapsed; yet, upon returning a year later with Diane Sawyer by his side, "GMA" rose from the wreckage yet again. Only the death of his friend Jennings, and the tragic wounding in Iraq of Jennings' successor, Bob Woodruff, finally opened the door to "World News."

Now, after only three years at the anchor desk, Charlie is gone.

BOTTOM LINE If it seems too soon, then yup, it is . . . far too soon. But there's also a "mission-accomplished" feel to the moment. Gibson's brief tenure was steady, calm and intelligent - pretty much essential in the wake of what had come before. Gibson didn't save just one franchise, but two. Maybe a curious career, but for ABC, a providential one.

GRADE A

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