Koppel bows off ‘Nightline’ in low-key fashion
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Ted Koppel, who built ABC’s
“Nightline” into a TV news institution 25 years ago, starting
with the U.S.-Iranian hostage crisis, will leave the show on
Tuesday with a low-key broadcast devoted to one of his favorite
subjects, a guy named Morrie.
For his “Nightline” swan song, Koppel, 65, will look back
at a series of interviews he did 10 years ago with college
professor Morrie Schwartz, whose struggle with Lou Gehrig’s
disease and lessons on life and dying inspired the best-selling
book by Mitch Albom, “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
Clips of his conversations with Schwartz in the months
before his November 1995 death will be interspersed with a
recent interview Koppel conducted with Albom.
“Some of ‘Nightline’s’ most fascinating shows over the
years have featured people no one has ever heard of, and Morrie
is a perfect example,” Koppel said in a statement last week
announcing the subject of his final show.
A reconstituted “Nightline,” replacing Koppel and his
single-subject format with a trio of anchors covering several
topics each night, will debut on November 28.
But Koppel’s finale, capping a 42-year career with ABC
News, marks the quiet passing of an era in which “Nightline”
changed the face of late-night U.S. television and helped usher
in the demand for round-the-clock news.
Known for his sober, measured delivery, meticulous
preparation and tenacious interview style, Koppel is regarded
as one of the most respected figures in broadcast journalism,
drawing comparisons to legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow.
“This is one of the most gifted interviewers that
television or print has ever had,” said Ken Auletta, who writes
for The New Yorker magazine and is author of the network news
history “Three Blind Mice.”
Orville Schell, dean of journalism at the University of
California at Berkeley, called Koppel in a recent Los Angeles
Times article “the gold standard” of serious world affairs
reporting on television.
For his own part, Koppel says the probing approach he takes
in questioning public officials stems from a responsibility he
feels toward his viewers.
“When I’m sitting there interviewing someone … I don’t
represent Ted Koppel … I represent the entire television
audience that’s watching my broadcast,” he said in a recent
interview on the National Public Radio program “Fresh Air.”
“They have a right to a straight-forward answer to the
question. Otherwise why bother tuning in?”
“Nightline” grew out of a series of late-night news
specials on ABC devoted to coverage of the takeover of the U.S.
Embassy in Tehran in November 1979. Titled “The Iran Crisis:
America Held Hostage,” the shows were first anchored by Frank
Reynolds, then by Koppel, who stayed on to become host of
“Nightline” when it debuted as a regular ABC program on March
Koppel is the latest in a string of veteran network news
anchors to sign off in recent months, following Tom Brokaw of
NBC, Dan Rather of CBS, and Koppel’s ABC News colleague, the
late Peter Jennings.
Their departure comes at a moment when network executives
have mused openly about drastically altering the way in which
TV news is presented as they struggle to compete with cable
channels and the Internet.
One major shift has been networks’ growing emphasis on
their lucrative morning shows, which tend to focus less on hard
journalism and more on human interest and lifestyle subjects,
as the driving force of their news divisions, Auletta said.