After a summer marred with controversy, ABC News harvested a double vote of confidence this week, nabbing Ted Koppel for another five years and raking in eleven news and documentary Emmy Awards–more than any other network.
Of the eleven Emmys, five went to “Nightline,” including two for its “Brave New World” specials. The net’s 24-hour international Millennium celebration “ABC 2000” nabbed two awards, as did an installment of “The Century.” “World News Tonight – Weekend” and “20/20” garnered one award each.
“We are putting on the highest quality programming of any news organization in the country,” said ABC News prexy David Westin. “That’s reflected in the Emmy awards.”
Westin, who has had his fair share of bad publicity this summer, surely breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday when Koppel, a 37-year veteran of ABC News, renewed his contract with the alphabet web. Koppel will continue as anchor and managing editor of “Nightline,” a position he has held since the broadcast’s inception in March 1980.
Beginning in January, Koppel will continue his regular anchoring duties three nights per week, report six special week-long series for “Nightline” each year, and anchor special primetime editions of “Nightline” when merited by breaking news. Koppel will also play a significant role in the program’s effort to establish new partnerships and move into new media.
“Nightline” executive producer Tom Bettag has also extended his contract for five years. Bettag, who has served as the show’s exec producer since 1991, will continue to be primarily responsible for the daily, half-hour broadcast, and will oversee Koppel’s multi-part series and breaking news specials. But, Bettag will spend the bulk of managing “Nightline”‘s migration into new media and developing new partnerships with other news orgs. Recently, “Nightline” has produced documentary programming for PBS, Court TV and The Discovery Channel.
Leroy Sievers has been promoted from senior field producer to executive producer, reporting to Bettag. Sievers will have daily oversight for “Nightline.”
“If I’m juggling PBS and our New York Times relationship and doing things with Court TV and the Internet, we need somebody who worries only about having the half hour of ‘Nightline’ being the best half hour ever,” said Bettag about Sievers’ new role.
Sievers, who joined “Nightline” in 1991, was part of the team that inaugurated “America in Black and White,” “Nightline”‘s ongoing series on race relations in America.
Up against NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman,” “Nightline” is experiencing some ratings troubles. Year-to-date, the nightly broadcast has declined 9% in total viewers (4.82 million vs. 4.41 million). And in adults 25-54, the demographic advertisers care most about, the program is down 5% in household ratings from the previous year (2.0 rating vs. 1.9).
But, Bettag said the show has other more pressing challenges to face. “Normally we sign three year contracts, but the next five years are going to be one of the most exciting, scariest transitions we’ve ever seen. We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Bettag. “By the time ‘Nightline’ hits its 25th anniversary–because of the combination of 150 or 500 channels and the Internet– television isn’t going to look anything like it does today. Trying to negotiate those changes is a challenge, but it will be great fun.”
Wednesday night’s news and documentary Emmys also marked a turning point for CNN, which lost its prexy Rick Kaplan last week in a dramatic exec shuffle. Kaplan’s baby “CNN & Time,” the program responsible for the “Tailwind” fiasco, came home with an Emmy for outstanding coverage of a continuing news story for “Children of the Plague,” a report on AIDS orphans in Africa.
“CNN & Time,” which originally fell under the “NewsStand” umbrella, got off to a disastrous start in June 1998 because of “Operation Tailwind,” in which the cable news net had to retract a story that alleged U.S. soldiers used nerve gas in Laos during the Vietnam War. “CNN & Time” exec producer Civia Tamarkin feels that the Emmy win partially vindicates the show. “This is a show that people thought crashed and burned on its launch,” said Tamarkin. “But, in fact, many people say we’re doing the best work in TV.”
In part, Tamarkin blames the media for dwelling on “Tailwind,” and CNN for not promoting the show enough. “All you hear about is the legacy of that one story and the ratings problems. It’s a show that’s never been promoted or marketed.”
While rumors surfaced after Kaplan’s exit that CNN might abandon the show, along with “NewsStand,” Tamarkin thinks it’s unlikely. “I would hope that CNN as a news network would recognize the importance of having an award-winning news magazine in its portfolio,” she said.
CNN also earned an award for “CNN Perspectives.”
Also taking home awards on Wednesday night were CBS News and NBC News, earning six statuettes each. CBS News’ “60 Minutes II” walked away with three awards, two more than the original “60 Minutes.” “CBS Evening News Weekend Edition” and “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” were also recognized.
“Dateline NBC,” “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” and a “National Geographic Special” earned NBC kudos.
PBS nabbed five Emmys, including two for “P.O.V.,” while TBS walked away with three for its “National Geographic Explorer” series. Cinemax won two awards for its “Reel Life” series; while sister net HBO earned one for “America Undercover.”
The Awards, presented by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, recognized news and documentary programs that aired during the 1999 calendar year.