20/20 (American TV program)

Last updated

Genre Newsmagazine
Created by Roone Arledge
Presented by David Muir (2013–present)
Amy Robach (2018–present)
(for past anchors, see section)
Theme music composer Score Productions (1979–2001)
VideoHelper (2001–2004)
Transcenders (2004–2006)
DreamArtists Studios (2009–present)
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons43
No. of episodes500+
Executive producerDavid Sloan (2005–present)
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time60 minutes (1979–2018)
120 minutes (2018–present)
Production company ABC News Productions
Original network ABC
Original releaseJune 6, 1978 (1978-06-06) 
External links

20/20 (stylized as 2020) is an American television newsmagazine that has been broadcast on ABC since June 6, 1978. Created by ABC News executive Roone Arledge, [1] the program was designed similarly to CBS's 60 Minutes in that it features in-depth story packages, although it 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 two-hour-long program has been a staple on Friday evenings (currently airing at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time Zone) 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. For most of its history, it was led into by ABC's two-hour TGIF block of sitcoms.

Since the fall of 2018, it has shifted to a two-hour format highlighting true crime stories and celebrity scandals rather than the traditional investigative journalism associated with newsmagazines, following the same programming direction as same-night competitor Dateline NBC .


The anchors on the premiere telecast of 20/20 were Esquire magazine editor Harold Hayes, who also served as the program's senior producer, and Time art critic Robert Hughes. The program's debut received largely harsh reviews; The New York Times described it as "dizzyingly 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 program intoning, "That's the way it was"). As a result of the scathing reviews, serious and drastic changes were immediately made: 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 featured 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 color bars (used when television stations were off the air between sign-off and sign-on). The eyeglasses were keyed over a yellow background, and rotated to its rear position to reveal the 20/20 studio.

With Downs hosting, 20/20 changed into a more standard yet unique newsmagazine and received kinder reviews from critics. The program was originally launched as a summer replacement series; it was then presented on a once-a-month basis during the 1978–79 television season, before being given a regular weekly timeslot on Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time beginning May 31, 1979. Emmy Award-winning producer, Bernard I. Cohen began his career with ABC evening news in 1964. From 1979 to 1992, he was a lead Producer at 20/20 and helped solidify the program's top Nielsen Ratings. 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 now (the program also used the line "Around the world and into your home, the stories that touch your life" as the introduction during the program's opening titles for much of the 1990s).

Barbara Walters joined the program in 1979 in a role something less than a co-anchor and soon became a regular special contributor in the fall of 1981. In 1984, she became Hugh Downs's 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 fall of 1987, 20/20 was moved to Fridays at 10:00 p.m. Eastern; while in that timeslot, it ranked at 21st place in the annual Nielsen ratings by the 1991–92 season. It aired in that same Friday time slot until the fall of 2001, when ABC briefly replaced the program with the scripted family drama series Once and Again , only for 20/20 to return to the lineup again four months later; it has basically retained the timeslot ever since. While the program 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 its 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 Thursday nights. 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, the former White House intern who was infamously revealed to have been involved in an affair with then-President Bill Clinton a few years earlier, 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 program. [3]

After Downs' retirement in 1999, Walters became the solo anchor of 20/20. This lasted until John Miller was hired as a permanent co-host of the program in 2002; Miller 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 temporarily anchored solo again. However, in May of that year, John Stossel – an investigative correspondent for the program who was behind the controversial, though popular, "Give Me a Break" segments – was named as Walters' new co-anchor. 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 program. ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas was promoted to the co-anchor position.

In September 2009, before the start of its 31st season, John Stossel announced he would leave the program after 28 years to pursue a new weekly show on Fox Business. [4] Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer also contributed reports. On December 10, 2009, ABC News 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 the cable network's new morning news program, 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 Tonight (a role he retains after being appointed to main anchor of the since-renamed ABC World News Tonight in September 2014).

The program expanded once again on March 2, 2013, with the debut of 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 flagship Friday broadcasts. 20/20 Saturday airs outside of college football season, at either 9:00 p.m. as a two-hour broadcast formatted as separate hour-long episodes centered on two different topics or at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time as an hour-long broadcast, depending on the programs that precede it that given week. Barbara Walters originally served as host of the program until her retirement from regular television broadcasting in May 2014, after which the hosting duties were turned over the anchors of the Friday editions.

On December 22, 2017, Elizabeth Vargas announced that she would be leaving 20/20 and ABC News at the end of May. On April 23, 2018, Good Morning America news anchor Amy Robach was announced to take over as co-anchor alongside Muir in May.

20/20 Downtown

Unlike most other newsmagazines, 20/20 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 network affiliate bumping the program 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. The program was renamed Downtown but was canceled in 2002. In 2003, the program returned for one season as Primetime Monday, with the same anchors and format.

Special episodes

Even 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 story packages that relate to the topic or a focus on a single story. These include:

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

A two-hour special entitled Last Days on Earth , which aired in August 2006, discussed seven different scenarios in which life on Earth could end; the edition has since aired on History.

Hidden America: Children of the Plains, a 20/20 special hosted by Diane Sawyer that aired on October 14, 2011, reported on the children of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, the poorest Native Americans in the United States reservation in the poorest county in the United States.

A live prime-time special titled Pandemic: What You Need to Know - A Special Edition of 20/20 aired on March 16, 2020. [6]

A live prime-time special titled America Rising: Fighting the Pandemic - A Special Edition of 20/20 aired on March 30, 2020. [7]

A prime-time investigation special titled American Catastrophe: How Did We Get Here? - A Special Edition of 20/20 aired on July 28, 2020. [8]

A prime-time special focused on the life of Regis Philbin titled Regis Philbin: The Morning Maestro - A Special Edition of 20/20 aired on July 28, 2020. [9]

A prime-time interview with former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris titled The Ticket: The First Interview - A Special Edition of 20/20 aired on August 23, 2020. [10] [11]

A prime-time special titled The President and the People: a 20/20 Special Event aired on September 15, 2020. [12]

A prime-time special titled $ellebrity: The Go-To Girls - A Special Edition of 20/20 aired on September 27, 2020. [13]

A prime-time special titled Trump vs. Biden: The Main Event - A Special Edition of 20/20 aired on September 29, 2020. [14]

A prime-time special titled The Vice President and the People – A Special Edition of 20/20 will aired on October 15, 2020. [15]

A prime-time special titled Trump vs. Biden: The Final Presidential Debate - A Special Edition of 20/20 aired on October 22, 2020. [16]

A prime-time special focused on the life of Alex Trebek titled Alex Trebek, Remembered: A '20/20' Special aired on November 8, 2020. [17]

A prime-time special focused on the COVID-19 vaccine titled The Shot: Race for the Vaccine - A Special Edition of 20/20 aired on December 14, 2020. [18]

Theme music

The distinctive theme music to 20/20 was written by Robert Arnold Israel Sr. (who among other credits, also co-wrote theme music for now-cancelled fellow ABC series All My Children and One Life to Live ) and based upon the longtime Lillian Scheinert-written theme used for ABC World News Tonight. The original theme was revamped around 1993, and was subsequently replaced in 1999, along with the 20/20 logo and the anchor desk on the program's set. Finally the orchestral 20/20 theme was updated in 2001, along with a few modifications in 2003 and 2005. In 2009, the theme was once again revamped, and once more in 2010, along with new graphics to reflect the news magazine's new darker tone; this new theme was written by DreamArtists Studios. In 2012 the theme was revamped, again arranged by DreamArtists Studios.

On-air staff

Current on-air staff

Note: 20/20 has specials with other "on-air staff". [19]



Former on-air staff




Season Nielsen
Average viewership
1977–78N/A (summer)
1984–85#5513.7 million
1985–86#4015.5 million
1986–87#4314.2 million
1987–88#5412.6 million
1988–89#4014.1 million
1989–90#4413.5 million
1990–91#3313.5 million
1991–92#2214.4 million
1992–93#1315.1 million
1993–94#1514.5 million
1994–95#1714.0 million
1995–96#1113.6 million
1996–97#1212.8 million[ citation needed ]
1997–98#1915.0 million [20]
1998–99#2213.7 million[ citation needed ]
1999–2000#3312.2 million [21]
2000–01#4411.5 million [22]
2001–02#609.7 million [23]
2002–03#768.8 million [24]
2003–04#589.6 million [25]
2004–05#668.5 million [26]
2005–06#758.0 million [27]
2006–07#1067.5 million [28]
2007–08#1146.5 million [29]
2008–09#767.0 million [30]
2009–10#776.3 million [31]
2010–11#1005.8 million [32]
2011–12#1075.6 million [33]
2012–13#835.7 million [34]
2018–19#974.8 million [35]
2019–20#904.4 million [36]


True crime-focused episodes of the series air in first-run syndication on Oprah Winfrey Network and Investigation Discovery as 20/20 on OWN/ID.

International broadcasts

Local versions

See also

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