Koppel: News too soft

Anchor critiques biz; 'Sopranos' sings swan song

Former “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel confirmed on Friday that he’d been approached by Al-Jazeera before signing with Discovery and took the opportunity to critique broadcast network news operations for a general softening of coverage.

Koppel and longtime producer Tom Bettag left ABC’s “Nightline” in November. This month Koppel signed a multiyear deal with Discovery Networks to produce longform specs on major news topics.

He told reporters at the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour that he’d taken a meeting with Al-Jazeera, which is set to bow its international, English-language news operation this spring.

“It took us not very long to decide that that wasn’t something we were going to do,” Koppel said.

Though he only entertained the offer “for about 38 seconds,” Koppel defended Al-Jazeera as a news org. “I know it’s fashionable to just to look at Al-Jazeera as being a propaganda outlet for Al Qaeda,” he said. “But Al-Jazeera is, actually, rather a brave experiment given what the Arab world journalism has been like over the past 40 years.”

In response to news that “Nightline” correspondent Dave Marash joined the outlet last week, Koppel called Marash “a superb reporter … as honest as the day is long.”

Meanwhile, Koppel took to task the broadcast webs and cable news nets for what he regards as a softening of news in the race for ratings points and younger audiences.

“With the advent of all the different cable outlets, the competition has become so fierce that all new divisions, indeed all networks, are trying to focus on particular segments of audiences,” he said. “The emphasis on especially the youthful demographics is such that news divisions more and more are focusing on not necessarily less serious stories, but they’re staying away from some of the more serious stories.

“That’s not a restriction we’re going to face here at Discovery Channel.”

He officially begins work for Discovery in fall.

Last week, Koppel announced he’d also be contributing to the New York Times and National Public Radio.

The fat lady sings

Over at the HBO session, David Chase and the cast of “The Sopranos” took to the stage for what all insist will be the final time. As the mob drama heads into its swan song, even star James Gandolfini confessed, “It really does feel like the end this time.”

Chase said: “I think we’re all going to be sad” as the work winds down.”

Panelists were characteristically tight-lipped regarding details of the upcoming season, slated to bow in March. Guest stars this season include Ben Kingsley, who will play himself, and Hal Holbrook as a scientist who gets involved with the mob.

Chase did, however, whack the possibility of a “Sopranos” feature: “We used to talk about it. We don’t anymore,” he said. “I think what we’re going to be doing over the next year and a half is what would have been that movie.”

Series’ final eight episodes will premiere spring 2007.

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