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Inside Move: Koppel gets ‘Close’ to Letterman

Journo, comic yak on latenight skein

As ABC anchor Ted Koppel noted on his new after-midnight gabber, commercial television is not an industry rife with irony. That’s what made the choice of his first guest on “Up Close” so ingenious and potentially hilarious: It was David Letterman, the latenight comic whom ABC tried to recruit to for Koppel’s “Nightline” timeslot.

But in what turned out to be a somber, seemingly candid interview, the 20-minute discussion touched on themes such as the frailty of life, the specter of death and the trauma of Sept. 11.

As captivating as Letterman’s perf was, Koppel didn’t press the pensive comic much. They talked about his heart operation (which has been in the press before) and his reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Center, but we still don’t know any more about what tempted Letterman to consider moving to ABC.

Why didn’t Koppel query him about his complicated relationship with his CBS boss, Leslie Moonves? Did Letterman, as an anonymous source in a Vanity Fair article said last June, use the ABC offer as a means to “shave five years off Les’ life”? And if, as Letterman said in the interview, ABC courtiers were “very enthusiastic and equally generous,” why did he stay at CBS?

To his credit, Koppel did press somewhat. “Do you really think about pulling up roots just because somebody woos you a little more than someone else?” he asked. In response, Letterman compared the quandary to taking a date to the prom where you can’t help but look at the pretty girl across the room. “I just think it’s human nature,” he concluded.

The obvious followup question is, do the wandering eyes belie a problem with the date in hand? But Koppel just said, “Yeah.”

Regardless, many eyes wandered to Koppel’s new skein, which scored a 3.2 rating, beating its predecessor, “Politically Incorrect” which averaged a 2.3 in its final week.

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