Nightline’s Days May Be Numbered
Three years after narrowly surviving the ax, ABC’s long-running “Nightline” is in jeopardy again. Network parent Walt Disney Co. is serious enough about replacing the late-night news show Ã¢€” hosted by Ted Koppel since 1980 Ã¢€” to have ordered executives to start devising alternatives, according to sources familiar with the plans. ABC News last week shot a pilot for one possible “Nightline” replacement, a freewheeling show hosted by Washington reporter Jake Tapper and Bill Weir, the co-anchor of the weekend edition of “Good Morning America,” according to two people inside the network. One of the pilot’s top stories was about the Michael Jackson child molestation trial Ã¢€” exactly the kind of tabloid-friendly fodder that the generally sober-minded “Nightline” has tended to avoid.
Disney’s ESPN, meanwhile, is said to be developing an all-sports program for ABC’s 11:35 p.m. slot, presumably in hopes of luring the relatively abundant supply of young men watching TV at that hour. An ESPN spokeswoman reached late Friday said she was unaware of such plans. “This is all being done very quietly,” said one ABC News staffer, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Koppel, 64, has over recent years pared back his anchoring duties to three nights per week (substitutes fill in the rest of the time) and his contract expires in December Ã¢€” further fueling speculation about the future of “Nightline.” Newsday reported last week that ABC is weighing proposals to move the veteran newsman to “This Week,” the Sunday talk show currently hosted by George Stephanopoulos, as well as to expand “Nightline” to one hour based in New York, from its current half-hour format in Washington. Although “This Week” has struggled in the ratings opposite NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” one person who knows him well said Koppel is interested in the job.
Whatever the outcome, people inside and outside the network say “Nightline” is unlikely to last much longer, at least in its present form. “‘Nightline’ will survive through May,” when the program plans to formally celebrate its 25th anniversary, said Leroy Sievers, who served as “Nightline’s” executive producer for more than four years but left late last year following a dispute with ABC management over the show’s future. “After that, I think it’s just a question of time.”
I’d say it’s a shame except that, honestly, I can’t recall the last time I watched the show. While ‘Nightline’ is as well done as any news talk program, I was seldom in the mood to stay up for it. And, somehow, it never made it into my TiVo viewing habits, either.