As Socolow writes in "Anchors Away: Huntley, Brinkley, and Cronkite and the 1967 AFTRA Strike" (Journalism History, Summer 2003), Zenker's debut broadcast bombed in the ratings against NBC's Huntley, who crossed the picket line to broadcast. But by the second night, after the press had reported Zenker's strike-breaking performance, Zenker's ratings were only a single percentage point behind Cronkite's from the previous week.
Zenker's success temporarily demystified the network anchor job, Socolow writes, pointing to New Yorker TV critic Michael Arlen, who found that "the evening news as read by Mr. Zenker … sounds pretty much the same as the evening news as read by Walter Cronkite."
It's up to Sawyer to decide on her legacy: Ending her career as one of the last over-paid network announcers or helping ABC to plot a new news course—and finding the next Zenker.
Speaking of accidental anchors, Bob Schieffer had better ratings than Katie Couric. For more on Couric, see Bill Wyman's Hitsville blog. What sort of impact will Diane Sawyer have on nightly news? Equal to that of Connie Chung when she and Dan Rather co-anchored the CBS Evening News, I'd say. Who should be our next Zenker? I'd like to see Avi Zenilman in the chair. Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org and listen to my Twitter broadcast. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)