TUBE TALK Now that David Letterman has announced he’s not leaving CBS, what of Ted Koppel? One reason Letterman had been leery of taking up ABC’s invitation is that he didn’t want to be seen as the bad guy who forced Koppel’s ”Nightline” off the air; indeed, during his announcement at yesterday’s ”Late Show” taping that he was not switching networks, he made a point of expressing his support for Koppel, calling him ”one of a very small group that represents the highest echelon of broadcast achievement, without question,” and adding, ”Because of his contributions and the kind of guy he is and what he has done for this country and the world of broadcasting — he, at the very least deserves the right to determine his own professional future. Absolutely no less than that.” Letterman then addressed ABC, saying, ”Whatever you decide to do at 11:30, I wish you the very best. And my personal hope is that it will continue to be occupied by Ted Koppel and ‘Nightline’ for as long as that guy would like to have that job — that is just the way it ought to be.”
During its talks with Letterman, ABC had sought to reassure him by telling him that, whether he came to the network or not, ”Nightline” was finished. However, with Letterman’s announcement yesterday, ABC was quick to say that ”Nightline” will also stay put.
Koppel and his staff were not reassured. The ”Nightline” team issued a statement, saying, ”We are sure that Disney, in its efforts to sign Mr. Letterman, did not intend to inflict any damage on ABC News in general or ‘Nightline’ in particular; but intentionally or not, collateral damage has been done.” The team even issued a Letterman-like threat, implying that some of the folks on the show might feel unloved enough to leave. ”We hope the corporate leadership of Disney understands that it would not be reasonable to expect all of us at ‘Nightline’ to continue our work in a climate of ongoing uncertainty,” the statement said. ”We need something more than bland assurances or a short-term guarantee.” Noting that ABC could still go out and hire someone like Jon Stewart or Chris Rock to take over at 11:30, the statement said, ”There must be a great many talented comedians who would welcome the opportunity to take over the ‘Nightline’ time slot. Our hope is that Disney will send a clear and unmistakable signal to them, to us, to the advertising community and to all of our loyal viewers interested in the robust future of network television news that ‘Nightline’ can count on serious corporate backing.”
ABC, however, was not about to apologize for aggressively courting Letterman or for keeping the entire ABC News staff in the dark during the process. Said ABC Network Television president Alex Wallau, ”In today’s competitive environment, it is incumbent upon us to explore all programming options, and ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ was an opportunity ABC felt compelled to pursue.”