ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer taping a news brief...

ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer taping a news brief before her live evening broadcast from Manhattan on Dec. 21, 2009. Credit: AP / ABC, Ida Mae Astute

Diane Sawyer, one of the driving forces in network news of the last quarter-century and only the second solo female anchor for an evening news broadcast, will step down from ABC's "World News" in September, ABC announced Wednesday morning. 

She will be replaced by David Muir, "World News" anchor for the weekend telecasts.

Here's the statement from ABC News chief James Goldston: 

"At the end of last year Diane Sawyer started a conversation with Ben about one day stepping away from World News and devoting her boundless energy full time to a team which will create and commission original reporting, big ideas and interviews for all platforms. As much as she loved leading World News to new heights -- with so much important, brilliant and impactful reporting and a number one finish in the May sweep -- Diane decided that now is the moment to concentrate full time on tackling big issues in new ways. For many years to come Diane will be a driving force at ABC News with her exceptional storytelling genius. She will create innovative television specials and events, and, of course, continue to conduct the biggest interviews with the most important and extraordinary people in the world."

Meanwhile, George Stephanopoulos was named the network's "chief anchor," which means he'll cover breaking news. He remains at "Good Morning America."  While some have long assumed Stephanopoulos would one day succeed Sawyer, that became increasingly unlikely as "GMA's" success grew. With a somewhat resurgent "Today" once again challenging the show for morning leadership, Stephanopouls has to stay at "GMA."

The departure of Sawyer from this stage not only has enormous repercussions for TV news -- which is just now recovering from an almost endless nattering among professional TV watchers that it was doomed in the age of the Internet -- it's also of symbolic significance. Sawyer, a former Nixon aide, has been a major figure at two major networks: CBS, where she was a morning anchor, "60 Minutes" correspondent, and a William Paley favorite; and ABC News, where she was one of Roone Arledge's last great gets, a huge star who was brought aboard to launch a weekly "live" news magazine with Sam Donaldson. She was to help revive "Good Morning America" and brought it into a competitive position with "Today," and for her efforts was rewarded "World News."

Her broadcast -- and after Katie Couric, she became only the second solo female anchor of a nightly news program on one of the three major networks -- has been a ratings success, but not the ratings success: "Nightly News with Brian Williams" remains in first place.

But that may not be the issue here. Speculation about Sawyer's future has swirled about the industry for months: According to informed sources, her husband, Mike Nichols, the great director, is ill, while her mother -- to whom she is also devoted -- is of an advanced age. Many ABC watchers assumed Sawyer at some point would want to spend more time with them.

She was named "World News" anchor, succeeding Charlie Gibson, on Sept. 2, 2009. Coincidentally, Sept. 2 will be Muir's first day. (Her first day at "World News" was Dec. 21, 2009.) 

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