First Tom Brokaw, then Dan Rather, and now, their fellow veteran network news anchor Ted Koppel. The Nightline host announced that he’s leaving ABC when his contract is up on Dec. 4, ending his 25-year-long gig as the late-night show’s host and his 42-year career at the network. In a statement, ABC News chief David Westin said, ”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.” (One of those alternatives was taking over the Sunday morning show This Week from George Stephanopoulos.) ”As much as I will regret his leaving, he is firm in his conviction, and I respect his decision.”
Nightline‘s days have seemed numbered ever since the public relations fiasco three years ago, when word leaked that ABC was trying to lure David Letterman away from CBS to do his show in Nightline‘s timeslot. Letterman balked and expressed support for Koppel and his show’s value as a public service. ABC ended up hiring Jimmy Kimmel to host a post-Nightline celeb-chat show, but Kimmel hasn’t been able to hold onto the viewers he gets from the news show’s lead-in.
Nonetheless, Westin said he wants to keep Nightline; in fact, it was his desire to turn the show into an hour-long live broadcast that led to Koppel’s decision to step down. ”David offered me the opportunity to continue on Nightline, but it would have to have been on the basis of a one-hour program, doing it live five days a week,” the 65-year-old newsman told the Washington Post. I’ve been doing it for 25 years. I’m now at a stage of life where it’s not something I feel I can do any more.”
Nightline began as an ad hoc nightly report on the Iranian hostage crisis in November 1979. (Then called America Held Hostage, it changed its name to Nightline in March 1980.) That was a quarter century before 24-hour cable news channels made interview-and-commentary shows ubiquitous, but Koppel insisted to the Post that Nightline is still unique in that it devotes each half-hour show to a single topic. ”I really don’t think there’s anything else at ABC I would find as interesting or as challenging,” Koppel told the Post. ”It will be very hard to leave friends and colleagues behind. But in the words of an old song, you’ve gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.” As Koppel’s fellow Kenny Rogers fans know, you also have to know when to walk away and know when to run.