Donaldson and Sawyer try to boost 'Primetime' image Stars, producer try to boost image of 'Primetime Live'


LOS ANGELES -- ABC brought in Diane Sawyer from New York and Sam Donaldson from Washington in hopes of convincing television critics gathered here how great things were going for "Primetime Live" and how much Donaldson and Sawyer loved each other.

Only the script didn't play the way it was written.

For one thing, the executive producer of the show, Richard N. Kaplan, wound up having to confirm rumors of layoffs at "Primetime Live."

"I'm not going to deal in numbers," he said. "But it's not a large percentage of our program. It won't affect our on-air performance."

Maybe not. But such news had a way of seriously undercutting all the boy-are-we-on-a-roll, rah-rah talk.

Then Kaplan found himself defending the multi-million-dollar salaries of the two anchors sitting next to him, arguing that such salaries have nothing to do with the economic woes that network news divisions find themselves in these days.

That position's at odds with virtually every analysis from those of former network news presidents to those of media critics in academia.

Throughout the hour, Kaplan, Donaldson and Sawyer stayed on the defensive. Kaplan denied that there is tension between Donaldson and Sawyer or that incompatibility had anything to do with moving Donaldson from New York to Washington.

Neither Donaldson nor Sawyer commented on that subject, but both acknowledged that there have been problems with the show.

"We know that we went sailing in with a lot of trumpets blazing," Sawyer said of the show's launch and early fizzle. "And you take your chances when you doing that. I think we also knew . . . we were going to learn a lot on the air. It's not an easy thing."

"Well, people who, I guess, are on my side and like what I do, they say I've grown," Donaldson said. "And people who are on the other side say I haven't. I am learning."

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