Koppel Exits ‘Nightline’
It won’t be the same without him, since Ted Koppel and “Nightline” have been so intertwined for so long.
The much-honored journalist leaves the 25-year-old program — and ABC News, after 42 years overall — with the show’s Tuesday, Nov. 22, telecast. Evolved from a nightly series of specials about U.S. hostages then held in Iran, “Nightline” will continue with a trio of anchors: Martin Bashir, Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran, who assume their new roles Monday, Nov. 28. Still, a “Nightline” without Koppel may be hard for longtime viewers to grasp, if not for Koppel himself.
“Look,” he says, “the same was said of ‘The Tonight Show’ when Steve Allen left, then when Jack Paar left, then when Johnny Carson left. I think Jack Paar only did it for three years, but it was very difficult for people to imagine there could ever be another Paar. Well, there wasn’t; there was a Carson. When he left, Jay [Leno] had a hard time the first couple of years … understandably, because he had big shoes to fill, but he’s done a brilliant job.”
Koppel assesses his soon-to-be-former franchise in terms of “the kinds of programs ‘Nightline’ has done. Sometimes, those are subject-related, as with AIDS and our prison system and race relations. Those are topics we’ve come back to again and again. Sometimes, they’re event-related. You can hardly talk about ‘Nightline’ without talking about the hostage crisis in Iran, and I find it hard to think about the program’s evolution without the week we spent in South Africa in the mid-’80s, or the week we spent bringing Palestinians and Israelis together in the Middle East.
“There was a slogan some bright person in the P.R. department came up with for ‘Nightline’ many years ago: ‘Bringing people together who are worlds apart.’ In many respects, ‘Nightline’ did that when nobody else did, before CNN existed.” Which isn’t to say Koppel doesn’t have a certain affinity for the cable news network: One of his three daughters, Andrea, is among its veteran international correspondents.
In an era of ever-increasing television news options — some 24/7 — Koppel and “Nightline” have kept distinguishing themselves, as with the “Day in the Life” profiles and the controversial 2004 broadcast, “The Fallen.” That roll call of more than 700 U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq war prompted one station group to order its ABC affiliates not to carry the episode. Koppel takes particular pride in approaches unique to “Nightline,” although he concedes some concepts were born out of necessity.
“The top correspondents at ABC News really didn’t want to stay up that late,” he muses, “so we were always looking around for reporters to cover stories for us. The first ranks were always too busy; the second ranks were not that easy to find, either; and the third ranks, we didn’t want, so we created new styles of covering television news.”
Declining to specify his plans until he has left ABC, Koppel is a bit bittersweet about his departure, which comes shortly after the death of longtime friend and colleague Peter Jennings. “Sam Donaldson and Barbara Walters and Charlie Gibson and I are really sort of the last old-timers here,” he reflects. “Most of the people I grew up with and admired when I came here as a young man have passed on, quite literally, so it’s not quite as traumatic as if I’d left here 20 years ago.”
Koppel Exits ‘Nightline’