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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 p.m. 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, 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 show's opening titles for much of the 1990s).

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 test pattern (used when television stations were off the air between sign-off and sign-on).

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.

The hour-long program has been a staple on Friday evenings (currently airing at p.m.

In 2000, ABC reinstated Primetime under the title Primetime Thursday, and spun off 20/20 Downtown as a separate newsmagazine simply titled Downtown.The anchors on the premiere telecast of 20/20 were renowned Esquire magazine editor Harold Hayes, who also served as the program's senior producer, and famed Time art critic Robert Hughes.The show'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 show intoning, "That's the way it was").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.

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