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Nightline: History in the Making and the Making of Television

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Like anchor Ted Koppel, who cowrote Nightline: History in the Making and the Making of Television with former Nightline producer Kyle Gibson, this volume is variously serious, wry, pompous, and prolix. The book presents itself as a chronicle of the series, which debuted on ABC in 1979 as America Held Hostage, a nightly report on the Iranian hostage crisis. Over the course of those broadcasts, Koppel, then a little-known diplomatic correspondent for the network, became a familiar presence — all sleepy-eyed, puffy-haired, and undertaker-voiced.

The book trundles through the show’s highs and lows and is padded out with transcript excerpts and summaries from various editions of the show. These seem selected primarily to make Koppel look good. In a section about the Oklahoma City bombing, Koppel and Gibson quote the pastor of a church that offered its building to host one of Nightline‘s patented ”town meeting” broadcasts as saying that Nightline‘s visit ”could serve like group therapy for the people of the area. It would be a chance to express their feelings.” Now, this certainly makes Koppel look like a saintly fellow, but it also serves as a contradiction to the philosophy the newsman sets forth in the book’s introduction, in which he decries the ”dangerous phenomenon” of people compelled ”to react and respond according to the timetable of satellite technology.”

Koppel admits to having made a few mistakes over the years, copping to the occasionally petulant attitude or dull question that led to dud shows. At least once, his mea culpa seems almost neurotically excessive: seven pages expended to rehash what he’s now come to think of as sexist condescension in his 1984 grilling of vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. At this point, who cares?

Throughout Nightline the book, the star is referred to in the third person: ”Koppel said” this or that; ”Koppel hadn’t been asleep an hour when the phone rang.” Koppel notes in the introduction that ”I have contributed to this book, influenced it; but in the final analysis, Kyle wrote it,” so that probably explains it. Still, Ken Tucker thinks it comes off as silly and self-important of Koppel to have agreed to tell his story this way. C+