Bettag Returning to Nightline

Word has it that This Week with George Stephanopoulos executive producer Tom Bettag will return to Nightline as executive producer, at least for the time being.

The move follows the announced exit of Nightline executive producer Leroy Sievers, who was unable to come to terms on a new contract after taking issue with format and direction changes planned for the show.

Nightline will celebrate its 25th anniversary next March, but its fate has been a topic of frequent conversation inside and outside ABC at least since 2002, when the network made a very public, and unsuccessful, play for David Letterman for the time slot.

Richard Harris, a senior producer at This Week, is expected to be first in line to take over the reins of that show from Bettag in the interim as well, though ABC has made no formal announcement.

Harris is a former Nightline senior producer. He also produced UpClose, the Nightline spin-off that aired immediately after Nightline for six months back in 2002, filling the gap between Bill Maher's cancellation and the arrival of Jimmy Kimmel. The first guest for the Koppel-hosted Close Up in July 2002: David Letterman.

Bettag ran Nightline before moving over to helm the Sunday morning This Week program.

He has won 29 Emmys, five Peabodys and while at CBS remade CBS Evening News to fit Dan Rather after Cronkite bowed out. Bettag followed that up with an eight-year partnership with Ted Koppel on Nightline, helping it weather the Letterman storm.

But ABC executives are still said to be partial to an entertainment show for the slot--ad rates for Leno and Letterman are far better than Nightline's--or perhaps remaking Nightline in an effort to woo the younger audiences that advertisers crave.

That may have been the direction that bothered Sievers--he did not elaborate on those changes in a call to staffers last week to let them know the story was about to break.

Sievers was the brains behind Nightline's moving honor roll of U.S. Iraqi war dead, an idea he said he got from a Life magazine spread on Vietnam casualties. That episode made headline even before it aired when Sinclair Broadcasting refused to air it.

Koppel's contract is up next year. He is expected to stay on Nightline at least through the March celebration of the show's 25th year, though some close to the show speculate he may exit after that.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.