Ted Koppel, Discovery part ways

Duo end partnership six months early

The Koppel Group and Discovery Communications have agreed to dissolve their three-year relationship six months early.

Former ABC News anchor Ted Koppel struck the deal with Discovery in January 2006, two months after ankling his 25-year stint as “Nightline” host.

His shingle had produced 15 hours of documentary programming for Discovery under the “Koppel on Discovery” label. This year’s projects included the four-part China profile “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” and October’s “The Last Lynching.”

The parting of ways was described as “amicable,” but in a statement, Koppel made no bones about the reason for the split.

“Producing our kind of news-related programs is an expensive proposition,” Koppel said. “It has long been clear that neither of us is interested in an extension of the current contract. Discovery and I worked on terminating the contract a few months early under terms that both sides found acceptable.”

“Budgets were an issue,” echoed Koppel Group exec producer Tom Bettag, “but it’s not just at Discovery. Everyone’s trying to control costs.”

Insiders at network broadcast bureaus in D.C. said they either already knew or had heard that Koppel would be leaving Discovery and thus were not surprised by the announcement. But no one seemed to know where the former “Nightline” anchor may land next.

Koppel’s name has been among those that have surfaced in reports speculating on who may succeed the late Tim Russert as moderator of “Meet the Press.” But he is considered a longshot at best for the job. NBC News’ former White House correspondent David Gregory (currently hosting a show on MSNBC) is the logical choice, some newsies say. A Peacock official said the net would be making an announcement about Russert’s replacement “pretty soon.”

Former “Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw, the interim host of “Meet the Press,” agreed to come out of retirement to handle duties until the net decided on a permanent replacement.

Bettag, claiming that he and Koppel hadn’t given any thought to their plans for the immediate future, said, “In January we’ll figure out the lay of the land in this crazy media scene and decide what to do.”

(William Triplett in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.)

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