ABC and CNN may merge their news operations. If 18 months of negotiations bear fruit, the two media outlets may join forces to cut costs and boost revenues

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Back in March, when ABC nearly booted Ted Koppel’s ”Nightline” in order to lure David Letterman away from CBS, one anonymous ABC executive called Koppel’s venerable news program irrelevant in an age of 24-hour cable news. That view was widely derided at the time, even by Letterman, who said Koppel deserved to stay and who ultimately remained at CBS. But if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Now, ABC may be teaming up with cable’s CNN to merge the two companies’ news operations, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Represenatives for both companies acknowledged that talks had been going on for 18 months, but that no deal had been reached. The move would presumably cut costs and boost revenues for both network’s parent companies, Disney and AOL Time Warner (also EW.com’s parent company).

In fact, AOL tried to work out a similar deal with CBS earlier this year, but that deal failed to reach fruition because CBS didn’t want to give up control of its news operation, the Times reported. That would be less of an issue in an ABC-CNN merger, which the Times said would be structured so that both sides get equal control, though AOL would own two-thirds to three-fourths of the new outlet. Negotiators expected the new company to take in as much as $1.6 billion, with $1 billion coming from the CNN side and $600 million from the ABC side, while the joint venture would save between $100 and $300 million annually in expenses.

What such a merger would mean for the stars of the two operations is unclear. Will the CNN folks resent the high salaries of ABC personalities like Koppel, Peter Jennings, and Barbara Walters? Or will they have to take pay cuts to fall in line with the likes of Wolf Blitzer and Aaron Brown? Will Paula Zahn have to fight Diane Sawyer for morning-show guests, or will guests be shuttled from one glass-front Manhattan studio to the other, a few blocks away? And will Connie Chung, who seemed so happy earlier this year to be leaving ABC for CNN, be thrilled to work for her old bosses again?

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