November 29, 2005

Attention span not required for new ‘Nightline’

By Barry Garron

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In interviews before he retired last week from ABC and as anchor of "Nightline" for a quarter of a century, Ted Koppel expressed confidence that the new "Nightline," though it might take a different form, would carry on the solid journalistic traditions of the old show.

Cynthia McFadden, one of the three co-anchors for the reincarnated "Nightline," pledged Monday night, the new show's first outing, "to do our best to build on the proud journalistic tradition of this program." But based on the first show, "our best" is not yet good enough.

Responding to the assumption that there aren't even a few million TV viewers bright enough to stay with a single issue or topic for a full half-hour, the new "Nightline," replete with new graphics and music, divides itself into three segments. The upside is that there are more chances one of these segments will catch the interest of a viewer. The downside is that there simply isn't enough time to explore subjects in any depth. Worse still, based on the opening segment, the quality of the reporting has taken a hit.

The first piece was part of a new series called "Iraq: Stay In or Pull Out?" but it never came close to addressing the question. Instead, Terry Moran, another co-anchor, presented a day in the life of the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. (An Internet search was required for the correct spelling because, even though the anchors' names are superimposed large and clear, no one thought to do so with the ambassador.) The segment showed that Moran liked Khalilzad but not much else. Moran said Khalilzad "can get things done" and that he's "a born dealmaker." It also said Khalilzad will try to engage Iran in talks, but that was about as close to any real news as we got.

In the second segment, McFadden moderated a debate between two Catholic priests, one of them gay, on a new order from the Vatican to screen out gay men who want to be priests. The debate was lively, and McFadden asked good questions. Too bad the segment couldn't have played out longer.

The final segment was a report narrated and introduced by the remaining co-anchor, Martin Bashir, on the success of a football team fielded by a California high school for the deaf. It was a solid feature, and not unlike a few of the stories reported on Koppel's "Nightline," but it is the kind of soft news with which TV is inundated and which, with a little tinkering, could have been an episode of "Three Wishes" or "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Perhaps subsequent episodes of the new "Nightline" will challenge and engage viewers intent on finding out more about the crucial issues of our time. If not, it will be that much easier for ABC network brass to justify moving Jimmy Kimmel up a half-hour.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter