(Above: An image of the destruction from the 8.9 earthquake, which rocked the northeast section of Japan Friday and was ignored by ABC’s “Nightline” broadcast Thursday night.)

Broadcasting & Cable’s Ben Grossman properly asked ABC News why “Nightline” didn’t try to at least provide a live update on the massive earthquake in Japan for its West Coast broadcast. A spokesman for the news division, to its credit, admits that the newsmag should have gone live for the later airing.

But that’s only a small part of the problem.

Abcnightlinelogo_bltv “Nightline” has done a lot of crowing about its ratings, which include its highest total audience during a February sweeps — an average 3.8 million viewers, per Nielsen — in seven years, including a 4% gain compared to last year. In TV today, any improvement hardly comes easily, so presumably, that’s cause to slap high-fives all around.

How the 30-year-old program that Ted Koppel turned into one of the classiest on television has accomplished that, alas, is another matter, and Thursday’s telecast inadvertently delivered an exaggerated commentary on just how badly “Nightline” has stooped to conquer.

Usually, there’s at least one hard-news feature — or something with a bit of edge to it — out of the three topics tackled. But Thursday — with all that’s happening in the world, from Libya to Wisconsin — was a veritable tour-de-force of meaningless crap.

Kid_bltv Here were the three topics (which I tweeted about on Thursday night, before running back to the quake coverage): A teen singer who — thanks to YouTube hits — could become the next Justin Bieber (or not); an interview with Kathy Griffin, the not-very-funny-but-highly-acerbic comic; and a segment titled “Man vs. Fish.”

Even without the quake and tsunami threat (and let’s give them a temporary pass on that), that’s an unbelievably shallow lineup in light of what’s happening in America, much less around the globe. Nothing on the controversial “Muslims in America” hearing in Congress? Nothing on the threat of a government shutdown? Nothing on the battle over public unions in the Badger state and beyond? Hell, even more Charlie Sheen — in light of developments Thursday — would have been newsier than this.

So while “Nightline” might have pumped up its numbers, at what cost? This is why nobody needed to shed a tear when it was announced that the show would be trimmed to 25 minutes to allow “Jimmy Kimmel” to start at midnight.

That decision might have afforded the program 17% less time each night, but compared to its heyday, this hollow shell already contains about 85% less news.