20/20 is an American "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, 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 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.