20/20 (U.S. TV series)

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This article is about the American television series. For other uses, see 2020 (disambiguation).
Created by Roone Arledge
Presented by Elizabeth Vargas (2004–present)
David Muir (2013–present)
Composer(s) DreamArtists Studios
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 35
Executive producer(s) David Sloan (2005–present)
Location(s) ABC News Headquarters, New York City, New York
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 60 minutes
60 or 120 minutes (Saturday edition)
Production company(s) ABC News Productions
Original channel ABC
Picture format 480i (4:3 SDTV) (1978-1999)
720p (4:3 HDTV) (1999-2012)
1080i (16:9 HDTV) (2012-present)
Original run June 6, 1978 – present
External links

20/20 is an American television newsmagazine (similar in depth to a print newsmagazine) that has been broadcast on ABC since June 6, 1978. Created by ABC News executive Roone Arledge,[1] the show was designed similarly to CBS's 60 Minutes but focuses more on human interest stories than international and political subjects. The program's name derives from the "20/20" measurement of visual acuity.

The hour-long program has been a staple on Friday evenings (currently airing at 10 p.m. Eastern Time, though sometimes extended one hour earlier, particularly during the summer months) for much of the time since it moved to that timeslot from Thursdays in September 1987, though special editions of the program occasionally air on other nights.


The anchors on the premiere telecast of 20/20 were renowned Esquire magazine editor Harold Hayes, who also served as the program's senior producer, and famed Time art critic Robert Hughes. The show's debut received largely harsh reviews; The New York Times described it as "dizzingly absurd" and the Washington Post denounced it as "the trashiest stab at candycane journalism yet." In his autobiography Roone: A Memoir, Roone Arledge recalled that probably the most embarrassing part of that initial program was the Claymation segments featuring caricatures representing then-President Jimmy Carter (singing "Georgia on My Mind") and Walter Cronkite (closing the show intoning, "That's the way it was"). As a result of the scathing reviews, serious and drastic changes were made immediately: Hayes and Hughes were fired (as was original executive producer Bob Shanks), and a then semi-retired Hugh Downs was recruited to take on the role of sole host on the following week's program.

Also in the premiere telecast of 20/20, the opening sequence consisted of a pair of eyeglasses, whose lenses showed colored bars, which are often seen in the SMPTE test pattern (always used when television stations were off the air). The eyeglasses were keyed over a yellow background, and rotated to its rear position to reveal the 20/20 studio.

Under Downs as host, 20/20 changed into a more standard yet unique newsmagazine and received kinder reviews. The program was originally a summer replacement series, after which during the 1978–1979 season, it was presented on a once-a-month basis before acquiring a regular timeslot on Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time beginning May 31, 1979. Ratings were generally very good during the summer months during its eight years on Thursday nights despite competition from Knots Landing on CBS and Hill Street Blues on NBC. It was around this time that the program started using the Brock Brower-written signoff line "We're in touch, so you be in touch" to end each program,[2] which continues to be used to this day (the program also used "Around the world and into your home, the stories that touch your life" as the introduction during the show's opening titles for much of the 1990s).

Barbara Walters joined the program in 1979 as something less than a co-anchor and soon became a regular special contributor in the fall of 1981. In 1984, she became Hugh Downs' equal, thus reuniting a duo which had already anchored together on NBC's Today from 1964 to 1971. The team would remain together on-air for the next 15 years.

In the autumn of 1987, 20/20 was moved to Fridays at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, where by the 1991–1992 season it ranked 21st in the annual ratings as a result. It aired in that same slot until the fall of 2001, when the series was briefly replaced by the family drama series Once and Again, only to return again four months later. It has basically retained the timeslot ever since. While the series briefly moved to the 8:00 p.m. timeslot on October 12, 2007, it reverted to its usual time two weeks later.

In 1997, a second weekly edition of 20/20 made its debut on Thursday evenings. For a time from 1998 to 2000, ABC News chose to consolidate their newsmagazine programs by combining 20/20 and Primetime Live into a singular brand under the 20/20 name and format in order to compete with Dateline NBC, which itself ran for four nights a week at the time (Dateline has since been reduced to twice weekly airings). At its peak, 20/20 ran on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays, in addition to its longtime Friday timeslot; these additional nights of 20/20 were joined by the younger-skewing 20/20 Downtown on Thursdays. In 2000, ABC reinstated Primetime under the title Primetime Thursday, and spun off 20/20 Downtown as a separate newsmagazine simply titled Downtown. By early 2002, 20/20 once again was airing only in its original Friday timeslot.

On March 3, 1999, Monica Lewinsky was interviewed by Barbara Walters on the program; that particular edition of 20/20 was watched by an estimated 70 million viewers, which ABC stated was a record audience for a news show.[3][3]

Downs retired in 1999 and Walters became the solo anchor until 2002 when John Miller was hired to be a permanent co-host of the series. But he never got very comfortable in the anchor chair, and a year later, Miller jumped at the chance to rejoin law enforcement. For a few months in early 2003, Barbara Walters anchored solo again. However in May 2003, John Stossel, the investigative correspondent behind the controversial, though popular, "Give Me a Break" segments, was named co-anchor of 20/20. As one of the first veteran anchors, Barbara Walters chose to go into semi-retirement as a broadcast journalist in 2004. However, she remained with 20/20 as a frequent contributor to the show. ABC News reporter Elizabeth Vargas was promoted to the co-anchor spot.

In September 2009, before the start of its new season, John Stossel announced he would leave the program after 28 years to pursue a new weekly show on the Fox Business Network.[4] Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer also contribute reports. On December 10, 2009, it was announced that Good Morning America news anchor Chris Cuomo was promoted to co-host 20/20 alongside Elizabeth Vargas. On January 29, 2013, it was announced that Chris Cuomo would leave ABC News and 20/20 for CNN to co-host a new morning newscast, New Day; on the same day, ABC announced David Muir would join Elizabeth Vargas as the new co-anchor of the program, in addition to continuing as weekend anchor of ABC World News.

20/20 Downtown[edit]

Unlike most other newsmagazines, Downtown was never carried by any big name anchor. An ensemble team of anchors fronted the broadcast, which was aimed at attracting younger viewers, but was hampered by many of the network's larger market affiliates bumping the show to late night or weekend timeslots to accommodate local pre-game shows or coach's shows/highlight recap programming dealing with NFL or college football teams preceding ABC's Monday Night Football. The anchor/reporting duties were filled by the team of Elizabeth Vargas, Cynthia McFadden, Chris Cuomo, Jay Schadler and John Quiñones. Downtown was canceled in 2002. In 2003, the program returned for one season as Primetime Monday with the same anchors and format.

Special episodes[edit]

Though 20/20 still occasionally utilizes a multiple topic format, the program has seen a gradual shift towards single topic editions since the late 2000s (similar to what has occurred with Dateline NBC since around the same timeframe, although continuing to include a wider range of topics), either in the form of various reports that relate to the topic or a focus on a single story.

These include "My Secret Self: A Story of Transgender Children", "Romance Morphs Into Horror Story", "Waiting on the World to Change" (a year in the lives of children in one of the poorest cities in America), "Scared Stiff: Worried in America", "Caught on Tape" (on how the proliferation of cameras in our society has impacted our lives), "Seeing and Believing: The Power of Faith", "Privilege in America: Who’s Shutting You Out", "Sweet Revenge" (a report on the differences between female and male brains), and "When Is Young Too Young?" (which reports on teenagers and kids that have adult traits, like an 11-year-old girl who is a race car driver or a 10-year-old boy who is a matador and includes the conversations with the mother of pilot trainee Jessica Dubroff, who at the age of seven died when the plane she was flying crashed not long after take off).

Drama High: The Making of a High School Musical, a two-hour special edition of 20/20, aired on December 15, 2008. The program documented the journey of students at Westfield High, a predominantly white school in Virginia as it staged The Wiz, the black musical adaption of The Wizard of Oz. This program was a departure from 20/20 '​s usual format in that it features no correspondent or narration, instead the story is told through the students' intimate video diaries.[5]

In August 2006, a two-hour special entitled Last Days on Earth aired. It discussed seven ways in which life on Earth could end, and has since aired on History. On October 14, 2011, 20/20 aired a special with Diane Sawyer called "Hidden America: Children of the Plains", about the children of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, the poorest Indian reservation in the poorest county in the United States.

20/20 Saturday[edit]

On March 2, 2013, a Saturday edition of the program debuted, 20/20 Saturday, which mainly features rebroadcasts of archived stories from previous editions of 20/20 (mainly those dating back as early as 2008) in the same single topic format as the Friday editions. Barbara Walters serves as host of the program. Depending on the programs that precede it that given week, 20/20 Saturday airs either at 9 p.m. as a two-hour broadcast formatted as separate hour-long episodes centered on two different topics or at 10 p.m. ET as an hour-long broadcast.

Theme music[edit]

The distinctive theme music to 20/20 was written by Robert Arnold Israel and based upon ABC's World News Tonight theme written by Lillian Scheinert. The original theme was revamped around 1993, and was subsequently replaced in 1999, along with the 20/20 logo and the anchors' desk. Finally the orchestral 20/20 theme was updated in 2001, along with a few modifications in 2003 and 2005. In 2010, the theme was once again revamped along with new graphics to reflect the news magazine's new darker tone; this new theme was written by DreamArtists Studios.

On-air staff[edit]

The anchors of 20/20 from 1998 to 2000. From left to right, Charles Gibson, Sam Donaldson, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Hugh Downs, and Connie Chung.

Current on-air staff[edit]



Former on-air staff[edit]




Season Nielsen
Average viewership
1977-1978 N/A (summer)
1978-1979 N/A (summer)
1979-1980 no data available
1980-1981 no data available
1981-1982 no data available
1982-1983 no data available
1983-1984 no data available
1984-1985 #55 13.7 million
1985-1986 #40 15.5 million
1986-1987 #43 14.2 million
1987-1988 #54 12.6 million
1988-1989 #40 14.1 million
1989-1990 #44 13.5 million
1990-1991 #33 13.5 million
1991-1992 #22 14.4 million
1992-1993 #13 15.1 million
1993-1994 #15 14.5 million
1994-1995 #17 14.0 million
1995-1996 #11 13.6 million
1996-1997 #12 12.8 million [6]
1997-1998 #19 15.0 million [7]
1998-1999 #22 13.7 million [8]
1999-2000 #33 12.2 million [9]
2000-2001 #44 11.5 million [10]
2001-2002 #60 9.7 million [11]
2002-2003 #76 8.8 million [12]
2003-2004 #58 9.6 million [13]
2004-2005 #66 8.5 million [14]
2005-2006 #75 8.0 million [15]
2006-2007 #106 7.5 million [16]
2007-2008 #114 6.5 million [17]
2008-2009 #76 7.0 million [18]
2009-2010 #77 6.3 million [19]
2010-2011 #100 5.8 million [20]
2011-2012 #107 5.6 million [21]
2012-2013 #83 5.7 million [22]

International broadcasts[edit]

Local versions[edit]

  • In the Republic of Ireland, an Irish version of 20/20 launched on TV3 in 1998. The show used a mix of reports from Ireland and reports from the American edition until it was cancelled in 2002.
  • In New Zealand, TVNZ's TV2 airs an hour-long local version, featuring both locally and internationally produced stories.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trimel, Suzanne. "Roone Arledge Auditorium And Cinema Dedicated April 25", Columbia University, April 26, 2000
  2. ^ A Horrifying Satire of Hollywood Returns, The Huffington Post, November 18, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Cloud, John (March 8, 1999). "Monica's makeover". CNN. 
  4. ^ Stelter, Brian (September 11, 2009). "John Stossel Leaving ABC for Fox Business". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ "Drama High — ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Complete TV Ratings 1996-1997". Fbibler.chez.com. July 26, 2002. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  7. ^ "The Final Countdown". EW.com. May 29, 1998. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. October 29, 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-10-29. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Charts on Box Office Films, Film Trailers, Film Release, Independent Films, Music, TV Ratings, Theater, Video Games". Variety.com. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  10. ^ "The Bitter End". EW.com. June 1, 2001. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  11. ^ "How did your favorite show rate?". Usatoday.Com. May 28, 2002. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Rank And File". EW.com. June 6, 2003. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. September 30, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. March 10, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-03-10. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. March 10, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-03-10. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  16. ^ "ABC Medianet". ABC Medianet. June 5, 2007. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  17. ^ "ABC Medianet". ABC Medianet. May 28, 2008. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  18. ^ "ABC Medianet". ABC Medianet. May 19, 2009. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Final 2009-10 Broadcast Primetime Show Average Viewership — Ratings | TVbytheNumbers". Tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com. June 16, 2010. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  20. ^ "2010-11 Season Broadcast Primetime Show Viewership Averages — Ratings | TVbytheNumbers". Tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com. June 1, 2011. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Complete List Of 2011-12 Season TV Show Viewership: ‘Sunday Night Football’ Tops, Followed By ‘American Idol,’ ‘NCIS’ & ‘Dancing With The Stars’ - Ratings | TVbytheNumbers". Tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  22. ^ Complete List Of 2012-13 Season TV Show Viewership: ‘Sunday Night Football’ Tops, Followed By ‘NCIS,’ ‘The Big Bang Theory’ & ‘NCIS: Los Angeles’ - Ratings. TVbytheNumbers.Zap2it.com (2013-05-29). Retrieved on 2014-05-24.

External links[edit]