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20/20 is an Americanmarker "television newsmagazine", (similar in depth to a "print newsmagazine"), broadcast on ABC since June 6, 1978. Created by ABC News executive Roone Arledge , 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 show's anchors on the premiere telecast were Harold Hayes, the renowned editor of Esquire magazine who also served as senior producer, and famed Time art critic Robert Hughes. The 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, 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 TV 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. The opening sequence looked a lot like it came from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Under Downs as host, 20/20 evolved into a more standard yet unique newsmagazine and received kinder reviews. The program originally was seen as a summer replacement series, after which during the 1978–1979 season it was presented on a once-a-month basis before acquiring a regular Thursday 10:00 p.m. slot beginning May 31, 1979. Ratings were generally very good during the summertime during its eight years on Thursday nights despite competition from Knots Landing on CBS and Hill Street Blues on NBC.

Barbara Walters joined the cast 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., 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 only to return again four months later. It has basically retained that slot 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" was launched. For a time from 1998–2000, ABC News combined 20/20 and Primetime Live to compete with Dateline NBC. The editions were called 20/20 Monday, 20/20 Wednesday, 20/20 Thursday, 20/20 Friday, 20/20 Sunday, and finally 20/20 Downtown. In 2000 ABC News returned the news magazines to the original 20/20, reinstating Primetime Thursday, and spinning off 20/20 Downtown as simply Downtown. By early 2002, the show was airing again in only its original Friday timeslot.

Downs retired in 1999 and Walters became the solo news 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 he 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 man 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 as a frequent contributor to the show. ABC News reporter Elizabeth Vargas was promoted to the co-anchor spot. On September 2009, before the start of its new season, John Stossel announced he would leave the program after twenty-eight years to pursue a new weekly show on the Fox Business Channel. Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer also contribute reports.

Spin offs

20/20 Downtown, later "Downtown" and "Primetime Monday"

Unlike most other newsmagazine, Downtown was never carried by any big name anchor. An ensemble team of anchors fronted the broadcast, which was aimed at attracting younger viewers. The anchor/reporting duties were filled by the team of Elizabeth Vargas, Cynthia McFadden, Chris Cuomo, Jay Schadler and John Quiñones. It was canceled in 2002. In 2003, the program returned for one season as Primetime Monday with the same anchors and format.

One hour specials

20/20 has done unique hour-long reports that include “My Secret Self: A Story of Transgender Children”, “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 that is a race car driver or a 10 year old boy that 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. With over three hundred hours of footage, Drama High depicts the minefields that students must navigate both on stage and off when trying out for a high school musical. Who will make the cast? Who has a future in performing and who doesn't? Rivalries heat up between peers while egos hit rock bottom and all time highs. The program documents the journey of students at Westfield High, a predominantly white school in Virginia who is staging The Wiz—the black musical version of The Wizard of Oz. Over 100 kids audition but only four will win the chance to star the performance. 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.

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 the History Channel.

Music theme

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.

Past anchors

Current and past correspondents

International broadcasts



External links

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