He left CBS in 1967, spent two years as executive director of the noncommercial Public Broadcasting Laboratory and joined ABC News in 1969 as the executive producer of its evening newscast, then anchored by Frank Reynolds. It was an era when â€œABC Evening Newsâ€ trailed CBS and NBCâ€™s nightly news operations in prestige, ratings and financial resources.
â€œMy target is â€˜H and B,â€™â€ Mr. Westin told The Indianapolis News in 1969, referring to NBCâ€™s co-anchors Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. â€œI think people are getting tired of them, and if theyâ€™re shopping around, I want them to look at us before they automatically turn to Walterâ€ Cronkite.
The broadcast journalist Ted Koppel, who was a correspondent on the evening news program, said of Mr. Westin in a phone interview, â€œHe probably elevated the â€˜ABC Evening Newsâ€™ as much as anyone until Roone Arledge,â€ adding, â€œAv was a very ambitious man, who thought he should have been ABC News president.â€
While at ABC News, Mr. Westin ran its â€œClose-Upâ€ documentary unit, for which he won a Peabody Award in 1973. He won another Peabody the next year, for producing and directing the documentary â€œSadat: Action Biography,â€ about the Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.
He left ABC News in 1976 in a dispute with Bill Sheehan, the president of the division, but returned two years later at Mr. Arledgeâ€™s request â€œto get rid ofâ€ the incompatible, feuding â€œEvening Newsâ€ anchor team of Ms. Walters and Harry Reasoner.
â€œThe day I arrived back at ABC, one of the producers who was in the Reasoner camp came up to me and said, â€˜You know, she owes us 5 minutes and 25 seconds,â€™â€ Mr. Westin told the Television Academy, referring to how much more Ms. Walters had been on the air than Mr. Reasoner over the past year.
After returning as the executive producer of â€œEvening News,â€ Mr. Westin collaborated with Mr. Arledge on an overhaul in 1978 that transformed the show into the faster-paced, graphics-oriented â€œWorld News Tonight,â€ with three anchors: Mr. Reynolds in Washington, Max Robinson in Chicago and Peter Jennings in London.