ABC News appoints Goldston to replace Bettag

NEW YORK — In a move that sets the stage for the post-Ted Koppel era, ABC News has appointed former BBC producer James Goldston to head “Nightline” starting at the end of the year.

Goldston will replace longtime producer Tom Bettag, who along with Koppel is leaving the show in December. Bettag and Koppel plan to hang out a shingle and work on longform documentary projects as a producer-reporter team.

The appointment of New York-based Goldston should put to rest some fears about the future of “Nightline”: that it might depart from the sober formula that made it distinctive or that the half-hour would be turned over to the entertainment division.

Koppel was stung by talks to bring David Letterman to ABC in 2002. “Nightline” ratings, while stable, lag behind those of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

Before joining ABC in 2004, Goldston was executive producer of Britain’s most-watched current affairs program, ITV1’s “Tonight With Trevor McDonald.” There, he produced “Millionaire — A Major Fraud,” the most-watched documentary in Blighty in 10 years, as well as the now-famous Martin Bashir documentary “Living With Michael Jackson.”

In appointing Goldston, ABC News passed over Sara Just, now a senior producer on the show who is heading up development of the post-Koppel show.

Pilots have included regular “Nightline” fill-ins Chris Bury, Jake Tapper, Bill Weir and Cynthia McFadden and feature three segments, rather than Koppel’s customary one. Some parts of the show will be recorded live, while Koppel’s “Nightline” is taped earlier in the evening.

Goldston, who lives in New York, will commute to D.C., where “Nightline” is based. A spokeswoman said “Nightline” will stay put in Washington; Bettag commuted from New York as “Nightline” exec producer for many years before moving to the D.C. area.

Goldston joined ABC last year as a senior producer in charge of primetime specials and investigative reports, including the investigation into Victor Conte, the figure at the center of the Balco steriods scandal.

Separately, ABC News inked a contract extension with AOL to provide its broadband news service ABC News Now to online subscribers.

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