Koppel, cohorts join Discovery Network
By Paul J. Gough
NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) – A little more than a month
after retiring from a 42-year career at ABC News, Ted Koppel is
diving back into journalism with a multiyear agreement to
produce longform work for Discovery Network.
Terms of the deal — which includes the former “Nightline”
host, his executive producer and friend Tom Bettag and eight
other staff members — weren’t announced, but it defied
conventional wisdom that had Koppel and company signing with
HBO. While sources said that deal was still on the table,
Discovery swooped in during the past month and made what was
called “ardent wooing” to make the deal.
The first longform programming from the team could appear
on Discovery in late summer or fall, though both Bettag and
Koppel will take some time off before starting to work in the
spring. The other ex-”Nightline” employees — one assistant
each for Koppel and Bettag, a research assistant and five
producers — will begin work immediately.
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Koppel said he made it
clear to Discovery Networks president Billy Campbell that the
team came as a package. After that, he said, came the
realization that Discovery was “an ideal place for us” and an
amazement that talks with Discovery hadn’t happened sooner.
Koppel announced in the spring that he would retire from
ABC at the end of his contract before Thanksgiving. The
newsman, who built “Nightline” into the class act of broadcast
TV journalism over 26 years, also steadfastly refused to
discuss his future until after he left ABC News. Rumors had him
signing with HBO, but sources said Discovery’s offer was too
good to pass up. And a call during the holidays from Liberty
Media chairman John Malone, who is also on the board of
directors of Discovery Communications, didn’t hurt.
“What you’re talking about is two very different
operations,” Koppel said of HBO and Discovery. “I don’t want
there to be hint of a suggestion that one operation is better
than the other. But in the final analysis, this was a better
Koppel said that none of the cable news channels were even
approached. Koppel and Bettag are longtime critics of cable’s
approach to covering the news and said the type of longform
journalism they wanted to do wouldn’t fit there.
“Can you imagine us saying, ‘Give us three hours of
primetime,’ and what the reaction would be?” Koppel said. “That
just wouldn’t happen.”
As Bettag put it, “You cannot help hit those moments (on
cable TV news) when hour after hour is spent on ‘Lost in Aruba’
and shake your head and say, is that what we want to be up
Said Koppel: “We want to do the kind of programming which
calls for and requires months of preparation. When a major,
major, major story breaks, we’ve been able to put it on in a
matter of hours. The idea is not to come to Discovery and do a
new version of ‘Nightline,’ or the old version of ‘Nightline.”‘
Unlike “Nightline,” when there were 250 shows a year,
Koppel and his team will have only a relative handful of
programs every year on Discovery.
“These are special shows on special nights that we will
very aggressively market,” Campbell said.
Koppel also will be managing editor, a job title he held on
“Nightline.” He said that it took him many years before he was
able to persuade then-ABC News chief Roone Arledge to give it
“Now that I’ve got it, I don’t want to give it up again,”
Yet he won’t hold that title throughout Discovery, which is
run by general manager (and BBC veteran) Jane Root.
“But I do have my eye on that ‘American Chopper’ show,”