Nightline anchor Ted Koppel has advised ABC that he will leave the network when his contract is up in December. He has been with ABC for 42 years, the last 25 at the helm of Nightline
Nightline executive producer Tom Bettag will also be leaving the network. The two will shop themselves as a team.
"Ted, Tom, and I have had ongoing conversations for almost five years seeking to ensure Nightline's continuity and to create an orderly transition," said ABC News President David Westin.
"All of us are optimistic that both goals can and will be achieved. Ted and I have discussed a number of options under which he might have remained at Nightline or in some other capacity at ABC News, but Ted believes this is the right time for him to leave. As much as I will regret his leaving, he is firm in his conviction, and I respect his decision."
The announcement came as a surprise to a number of Nightline staffers. There had been no buzz during editing on the show last night, according to a source.
Some had been hoping that This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos' increased appearances on Nightline gave credence to the report that the show would cointinue, with Stephanopoulos at the helm and Koppel switching to the once-a-week morning show.
Nightline producers put together a multi-anchor pilot*--ABC calls it a "workshop"-- for a Koppel-less, hour version of Nightline that would continue to be produced out of Washington, and had pitched it to New York
Nightline's fate has been in question for several years, with ABC making no secret of the fact that it was looking for an entertainment show to draw more lucrative demos to the time slot. The handwriting appeared to be on the wall after ABC made a play for David Letterman.
ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said the network remains bullish on Nightline and thanked Koppel and Bettag for providing a healthy transition period. "Without Ted, it will be a different broadcast he said." But how different--hour or half-hour, from Washington or New York, one anchor or many--remains an open question.
"I'm confident we will put on a Nightline that will be very recognizable to its loyal viewers and something that we will continue to be very proud of," said Schneider.
Insiders say there is no indication that there will be a name change given the strength of the Nightline brand.
*For more on the Nightline pilot, see B&C Editor in Chief Max Robins' March 14 column, 'Nightline a Go Go.'
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