Nightline, or ABC News Nightline is a late-night hard and soft news program broadcast by ABC in the United States, and has a franchised formula to other networks and stations elsewhere in the world. It airs five nights a week (weeknights), usually for 31 minutes. Ted Koppel served as main anchor from March 1980 until his retirement from the program in November 2005. The Executive Producer is James Goldston.
The Iran Crisis—America Held Hostage: 1979
The program had its beginnings on November 8, 1979, just 4 days after the Iran hostage crisis started. ABC News president Roone Arledge felt the best way to compete against NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was to update Americans on the latest news from Iran. At that time, the show was called: "The Iran Crisis—America Held Hostage: Day xxx" where xxx represented each day Iranians held hostage the occupants of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Originally, World News Tonight lead anchor Frank Reynolds hosted the special report. Shortly after its creation, Reynolds stopped hosting the program. Ted Koppel, then ABC News's State Department Correspondent, took on the hosting duties. It wasn't until a few days later that a producer had the idea of displaying the number of days on "America Held Hostage": Day 15, Day 50, Day 150, and so on. The show's producer, Jerry Chernak, died Tuesday, November 9, 2004, in Orlando, Florida.
Ted Koppel's Nightline: 1980–2005
At the end of the hostage crisis in 1981 (after 444 days), Nightline had entrenched itself on the ABC programming schedule, and made Koppel a national figure. The program has prided itself on providing a mix of investigative journalism and extended interviews which would look out of place on World News Tonight. Thanks to a video sharing agreement with the BBC, Nightline also repackages some of the BBC's output for an American audience. Nightline broadcasts also reappear in a condensed form on the overnight program World News Now.
The program aired four nights a week until 1982, when the sketch comedy program Fridays was shifted to air after Nightline.
The format of the show was as follows: first there was the introduction by the host, then a taped piece on the specific topic of the night, then after a commercial break, there was a live interview related to the topic of the piece. In 1983, there was an unsuccessful attempt to change the format of the show to multi-topics and an hour as opposed to a single topic in a half hour. This switch proved to be unsuccessful, and after a few months, the old program was restored. The format was again changed after Ted Koppel's retirement.
The program remains unique in American media, considering its nightly broadcasts. Most other similar shows only air once a week, though usually in a prime time slot for a full hour. Nightline is usually less sensationalistic than the weekly newsmagazines (which often emphasize soft news programming), though the program has caused controversy on occasion.
Perhaps the most infamous episode of Nightline occurred on April 15, 1987. During the episode, longtime Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis made racially insensitive comments. When Ted Koppel asked Campanis about why there were not that many black field or general managers in Major League Baseball, Campanis responded by saying that blacks may lack the "necessities." What soon followed was what many observers believed was Campanis coming off worse and worse despite the numerous chances from Koppel to clarify himself. Shortly after the interview, the Dodgers fired Campanis.
Nightline devoted each episode to a unique subject. Since its inception, they have covered all types of subjects (science, education, politics, economics, society, and breaking news). Many candidates for government offices, such as David Duke (November 1991) have appeared on Nightline to try to promote themselves. Seeing that there are so many prisons in the United States, they created an ongoing series in 1994 called "Crime and Punishment." Over the years Nightline had a number of technological firsts. They did the first live report from the base of Mount Everest. In November 1992, Science reporter Michael Guillen did the first ever live broadcast from Antarctica. There were times where there was breaking news as late as 11:00 ET, and they had to change the subject of the show and cover the breaking news. Examples of this were the deaths of John Lennon (1980) and Yasir Arafat (2004). Other important series were "America: In Black and White" and " A Matter of Choice." Nightline held a series of townhall meetings. Some of the more important ones include the Israeli-Palestinian Town Meeting in 1987 and the one discussing the War of Iraq in 2003. The interview was a major portion of the episode where important people were asked tough questions on the spot. Another series of townhall meetings featured public discussions and appearances by Japanese officials on the poor performance of American business during the 1980s, contrasted with the success of Japanese businesses. These townhall meetings coincided with the corporate takeovers of US companies by Japanese corporations during the early 1990s (i.e. MCA by Matsushita, CBS Records and Columbia Pictures by Sony Corporation, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Pebble Beach, et al.)
* 2008 John Edwards admits on Nightline to cheating on his wife with a campaign staffer.
* 2005 Ted Koppel's last show as host of Nightline.
* 1988 Nightline goes on location to Jerusalem.
* 1987 Nightline is seen in U.S.S.R. for first time.
* 1987 Gary Hart admits on Nightline to cheating on his wife.
* 1987 Nightline presents its first "Town Meeting" the subject is AIDS and the show runs until 3:47 AM
* 1987 Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker appear on Nightline after PTL scandal.
* 1987 Al Campanis, Los Angeles Dodgers executive for more than forty years, resigns after making racially insensitive remarks on Nightline.
* 1986 Corazon Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos appear on Nightline.
* 1985 First remote location for Nightline (South Africa).
* 1984 First live TV appearance by Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger.
* 1983 Nightline expands from a half-hour to a full-hour program.
* 1982 PLO chief Yassar Arafat appears on Nightline.
* 1981 Nightline extends from four nights to five nights a week (Friday).
* 1981 Nightline with Ted Koppel premieres on ABC.
* 1981 Nightline with Ted Koppel extended from twenty minutes to thirty minutes.
* 1980 ABC's nightly Iran Hostage crisis program renamed Nightline.
* 1979 ABC broadcasts "Iran Crisis: American Held Hostage" with Frank Reynolds (forerunner to Nightline).
Reading of the names
On April 30, 2004, Koppel read the names of the members of the United States Armed Forces who were killed in Iraq. This prompted controversy from conservatives who believed Koppel was making a political statement and from Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which felt that ABC was undermining the war effort in Iraq. Others, most notably the Washington Post television columnist, thought it was a ratings stunt for sweeps, and indeed Nightline was the highest rated program during that time period, and had about 30% more viewers than other Nightline programs that week. Sinclair stations did not air the program.
Koppel repeated the format on May 28, 2004, reading the names of service members killed in Afghanistan, and on May 30, 2005, reading the names of all service members killed in Afghanistan or Iraq between the last program and the preparation of the program. This time, Sinclair stations aired the program as scheduled.
Ratings and threats of cancellation
Rumors have spread for many years about the show's cancellation. However, during the so-called "late show wars" of 1993, when The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno were battling it out for viewers, Nightline would often place second and occasionally be in first place.
In 2002, ABC attempted to hire David Letterman from CBS, a move that would likely have forced Nightline's cancellation. However, Letterman opted to re-sign with CBS (When ABC added Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2003, it was placed at the 12:06 timeslot instead of the 11:35 slot of Nightline, again preventing cancellation).
Koppel anchored his final Nightline broadcast on November 22, 2005, despite his contract ending in December. He announced in March 2005 he was leaving the show at the end of his contract.
Ratings have been up since the new format has begun, even beating the The Late Show with David Letterman for three consecutive weeks in August 2006 and again in 2008.
Koppel's final "Closing Thought"
On November 22, 2005, Ted Koppel retired from Nightline after 25 years on the show, and left ABC News after 42 years. Koppel's final broadcast of Nightline did not feature clips, or highlighting moments, as typical when an anchor retires. Instead it featured Koppel's 1995 interview with college professor Morrie Schwartz, who was suffering with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Every so often, Koppel ended the program with a "Closing Thought". This segment is usually when he expressed his opinion on the subject of the nights show. On his final night, the following was his "Closing Thought".
“ There's this quiz I give to some of our young interns when they first arrive at Nightline. I didn't do it with the last batch; it's a little too close to home. "How many of you", I'll ask, "can tell me anything about Eric Sevareid?" Blank stares. "How about Howard K. Smith or Frank Reynolds?" Not a twitch of recognition. "Chet Huntley? John Chancellor?" Still nothing. "David Brinkley" sometimes causes a hand or two to be raised, and Walter Cronkite may be glad to learn that a lot of young people still have a vague recollection that he once worked in television news.
What none of these young men and women in their late teens and early twenties appreciates, until I point it out to them, is that they have just heard the names of seven anchormen or commentators who were once so famous that everyone in the country knew their names. Everybody. Trust me, the transition from one anchor to another is not that big a deal. Cronkite begat Rather, Chancellor begat Brokaw, Reynolds begat Jennings. And each of them did a pretty fair job in his own right. You've always been very nice to me, so give this new anchor team for Nightline a fair break. If you don't, I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. Then you'll be sorry. And that's our report for tonight, I'm Ted Koppel in Washington and from all of us here at ABC News, good night."
Post-Koppel Nightline: 2005–present
On November 28, 2005, Koppel was succeeded by a three-anchor team: Martin Bashir and Cynthia McFadden at Times Square Studios in New York City and Terry Moran in Washington, D.C.; the three anchor format being based on the BBC's Newsnight, which also has more than two anchors presenting the show. Along with the new anchors, Nightline is now live every night and has a multi-topic format—that covers multiple stories in each broadcast. There are many critics of the multi-topic format due to the fact that it is more difficult to focus on a subject in depth when there is much less time devoted to the subject, and that more stories seem to be focusing on popular culture, rather than news events.
On July 11, 2006, Ted Koppel made a surprise appearance on Nightline to discuss with co-anchor Terry Moran the prisoner situation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and to discuss his upcoming series for Discovery Channel. It was his first appearance on the broadcast since leaving the show in November 2005.
As of August 7, 2006 ABC had ceased Nightline's New York operations from Times Square and moved to ABC News Headquarters in Lincoln Square, citing high production costs and logistical problems. Even though Nightline moved to ABC Headquarters in Lincoln Square, several shows have been taped at ABC's Times Square location, mainly with Martin Bashir's coverage.
Nightline is developing an online program hosted by the show's anchors through Twitter, encouraging viewer discussion on the website.