Peter Jennings declares his independence at ABC. The anchor confirms he's signed on for three more years, but the network also gives him license to shoot documentaries for other outlets

With all the turmoil at ABC news this year, the network must be glad to have Peter Jennings confirm that he’ll remain as its news anchor through at least 2005. ”I have a contract with ABC for the next three years,” he told Variety. It’s not clear how much Jennings will earn, but his deal includes an independent production house, PJ Productions, which is contracted to make four hours of documentary programming for ABC each year and is then free to make films for other TV channels.

Jennings’ salary is believed to be about $10 million a year. Earlier this year, there were rumors that he might be asked to take a pay cut of 25 percent. Still, he was rumored in August to have re-upped with ABC, though he and the network did not confirm the deal until this weekend. As part of the deal, according to trade reports, after his PJ Prods. shoots four hour-long documentaries for ABC each year, he’ll be free to sell documentaries to other outlets (besides competitors NBC and CBS) and host them as well.

In return, ABC News gets to keep Jennings, its anchor for 20 years and a fixture at the network since 1964. That stability must be welcome during a year when ABC News nearly saw the replacement of Ted Koppel’s 22-year-old ”Nightline” by David Letterman and took steps toward a potential merger with CNN that could result in a loss of editorial control and massive staff cuts. Among ABC’s competition, this year has also seen NBC’s announcement that Brian Williams will succeed Tom Brokaw after the 2004 elections and CBS’ announcement that Dan Rather will stay with the network until at least 2007 but is cutting back on his duties. So by 2005, Jennings could be the last of the current generation of veteran anchors still hosting a nightly newscast.

Commenting on the deal, Jennings said in a statement, ”Our industry is in a period of rapid change and I am happy that we have found a way to continue doing documentaries, which I love.” As for what happens after 2005, Jennings told the New York Times, ”I don’t know what I’m going to want to do in three years. I’m not sure that ABC knows what it’s going to want to do then, either.”