NEW YORK — ABC named three anchors to replace the departing Ted Koppel as hosts of “Nightline,” ending months of speculation over the fate of the show.
Meanwhile Koppel and longtime producer Tom Bettag are close to inking a reported three-year deal with HBO to create a series of documentaries, but will wait until they officially leave ABC to finalize the pact.
ABC White House correspondent Terry Moran, “20/20” correspondent Martin Bashir and “Primetime” correspondent Cynthia McFadden will helm the new “Nightline,” Moran from Washington, D.C., and Bashir and McFadden from New York.
“Building on the great legacy of ‘Nightline’ as we go forward to the next era is both a challenge and an exciting opportunity,” ABC News prexy David Westin said.
There was a time when it appeared the “next era” for ABC’s latenight would be an entertainment show to compete with the likes of David Letterman and Jay Leno.
ABC execs have long said the departure of Koppel would present an opportunity for “Nightline” to try new looks, formats and themes. The show competes against two very well-oiled comedic franchises in Leno and Letterman, so winning in the timeslot doesn’t seem to be a realistic goal, but shoring up a dwindling audience would be a start.
ABC made an attempt to lure Letterman to the Alphabet in 2002; Koppel’s departure renewed speculation that the net might develop an entertainment show or move Jimmy Kimmel into the time period.
But Westin appointed James Goldston, a former producer at Britain’s ITV, as exec producer in charge of leading the remake of “Nightline” in July.
Goldston was Bashir’s producer on ITV’s “Living With Michael Jackson,” leading some to assume his appointment would lead to a turn to the salacious for “Nightline.”
But Goldston says that while the show will evolve, its essential DNA will remain the same.
” ‘Nightline’ has a great and proud tradition of doing serious journalism and doing it with great distinction, and that will continue,” he said.
The remake of the show, which debuts Nov. 24, will have three segments a night, a departure from “Nightline’s” signature single-topic format.
The show, which will be recorded live from the “Good Morning America” studio in Times Square and from “Nightline’s” studios in Washington, D.C., will move faster, with multiple segments squeezing out the wide-ranging and lengthy debates favored by Koppel.
Asked if he would send a reporter to Aruba to cover the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, Goldston said, “Never.”
Goldston, who lives in New York, will produce the show from Gotham. A number of new staffers are being hired in New York, but the bulk of the long-term staff will remain in D.C.
So far this season, ratings for “Nightline” are up 1% from last season to 3.7 million, a stat helped by coverage of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the first few weeks of the season. NBC’s “Tonight Show With Jay Leno” is up 4% to 5.9 million, and “Late Night With David Letterman” is down 12% to 4 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Long term, “Nightline” is on a ratings slide, but it competes respectably on a nightly basis and draws big numbers during times of crisis.
“Nightline” defeated Leno and Letterman handily with its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Koppel’s grilling of FEMA director Michael Brown became one of the more memorable moments and reminded many what may be lost when he moves on.