ABC's Woodruff May Come Home Soon

ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff speaks during the ABC executive question and answer segment of the Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on January 21, 2006 in Pasadena, California.
Getty Images/Frederick M. Brown
With "World News Tonight" anchor Bob Woodruff showing improvement Monday, a reeling ABC News division was coming to grips with what his injuries mean for the future of the recently revamped newscast and its ratings prospects.

Woodruff, seriously hurt Sunday by a roadside bomb in Iraq along with cameraman Doug Vogt, was being treated at a military base in Germany and may be transferred to the United States as soon as Tuesday, ABC News President David Westin said.

According to sources inside ABC News and the military, Woodruff's brain is badly bruised in two places and military physicians removed part of his skull to relieve the swelling, reports CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts. The explosion broke his collar bone, shoulder and at least a few ribs.

Woodruff briefly opened his eyes Monday and responded to stimuli to his hands and feet, the network said.

"He's a strong guy and he's going to make it," his brother, David, told ABC's "World News Tonight" from outside the hospital. "I think he's going to do well."

Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas have been "World News Tonight" co-anchors for only a month, new on-air standard-bearers for a news organization severely shaken by the cancer death of Peter Jennings last August.

They were appointed to duties that included an afternoon Webcast, live West Coast feeds of the evening news and frequent travel to story locations, a job Westin said was too big for just one person. Westin remains committed to his strategy for the newscast, a spokesman said.

"We're just 24 hours from this tragic incident," spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said. "We're figuring out exactly what we're going to do. And when we're ready to say exactly what that is, we'll be letting everyone know."

With Woodruff relatively little-known to the newswatching public, some analysts suggest viewers curious about the story could provide a short-term boost to a broadcast second in the ratings to NBC's "Nightly News."

"I have no idea if it will be a lasting difference," said Jim Murphy, who recently stepped down as executive producer of the CBS Evening News. "This doesn't happen much in American journalism, that a big star gets hurt like this. I just hope he's going to be well."

While NBC continues to dominate the evening-news ratings, the Vargas-Woodruff team was too new to tell if viewers would embrace them. CBS is still waiting to see whether Katie Couric is interested in jumping to its broadcast; her potential impact adds more mystery to the competition.

ABC's Westin was taking a long-term view, hoping viewers would appreciate jet-setting anchors and betting that their experiences now would pay big dividends in 10 or 15 years, said Andrew Tyndall, a consultant who studies the broadcast news divisions.

"This is someone who cares about what the future of his organization will look like and who will represent it," Tyndall said. "He can't go back on this plan."