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Nightline Makes Some Big Apple Moves

ABC has decided to split Nightline production between New York and Washington as it transitions into the post-Koppel era.

It will have two anchors in New York, one in Washington, and will try to work more West Coast stories into the mix.

Nightline staffers were told Wednesday that the program will be produced from both Times Square in New York and its DeSales Street Washington studios, and will consist of four segments per show.

The show opening, which had been edited in Washington, will now be edited in New York, which some staffers in D.C. felt was a signal that the show’s gravitational center was moving to the Big Apple.

A network source said Nightline is not planning layoffs. "If anything, we will be expanding" with a significant staff remaining in Washington." Staffers were told the same during Wednesday's announcement, though some were taking a wait-and-see attitude.

There will likely be some attrition anyway, with staffers leaving to join former executive producer Tom Bettag and anchor Ted Koppel, who are leaving to hang out their shingle as an independent news/documentary team. A source on the conference call to announce the moves said that the rehires from that attrition would mostly be rehired in New York.

In July, James Goldston, senior producer of prime time specials and investigative reports for ABC News, was named to replace Bettag, a move D.C. staffers saw as the beginning of the shows transition to a more New York-cetnric broadcast.

Goldston had said he would have Nightline offices in Washington and New York, remaining based in the latter. Goldston has been shuttling between New York and Washington as the show tests new formats and anchors.

Nightline has been mixing hard news stories with pieces on, say, a new Paul Anka CD, of late to try to attract some of the demos and dollars that flock to Letterman and Leno. ABC has made no secret of wanting to remake the show to draw younger viewers and mix up the story selection with more human interest pieces.

For the new Nightline, there will be two anchors in New York and one in D.C., Goldston told the staffers.

But they won't be chatty co-anchors, said Goldston, and the New York pair might not necessarily be on the air at the same time, he said, though adding that the situation was fluid.
Washington will maintain a 24/7 control room--which also contributes to GMA and World News Tonight, and two senior producers. Bu the main control room will now be in New York, said the source. Saying the show's ratings on the West Coast were terrible, Goldston told staffer the show would try to add a little more news from there, even going live if the story were big enough, in an effort to help that coast feel more connected to the show.

It is not clear what the balance of New York- to Washington-originated stories will be. Goldston is said to have told staffers that the show would only begin with a topical news story if it were big and dynamic, but that if it were, the story could wind up taking up most of the show.

With only six weeks to re-launch, Goldston said vacations should not be part of anybody's near-term plans.

John Eggerton
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.