“Nightline” is no longer being tailored solely for late-night newshounds.
The venerable ABC News show, which has its roots in the network’s end-of-day coverage of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, is quietly branching out to new venues. On Monday evening, Freeform, the cable network that is, like ABC, part of Walt Disney Co., will show “For Our Lives: Parkland,” a “Nightline” documentary that follows the lives of several students in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Executive producer Steven Baker feels there’s more “Nightline” can do. “’Nightline’ is more than just a time slot,” he says. “This is a brand that tells stories, no matter where it is seen.”
The hour long-special marks the first time “Nightline” and Freeform have partnered on a project. “Nightline” producers were able to embed themselves with some of the Parkland students, and not just at school events or demonstrations. “We had already been out in the field creating relationships. They had already let us into their homes,” says Baker. Meanwhile, Freeform executives saw a new opportunity to link to viewers between the ages of 14 and 34. “This is a story they are heavily engaged in and we feel it’s our responsibility to try to reflect and give them windows into the events they care the most about,” says Karey Burke, the cable network’s executive vice president of programming and development at Freeform, in an interview.
“There is very much thought about Freeform getting more into the documentary space on topics that are relevant and important to our audience,” says Burke, who adds: “We would look forward to doing more of these specials.”
The program will air at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time, and later in the evening on the east coast. It’s a nod, says Kary McHoul, Freeform’s senior vice president of current programming and unscripted development, to its subject matter. The show will air with limited commercial interruption on Freeform, she says, and without any commercials on Hulu. During the airing, a series of “explainer” interstitials will run, looking at topics like the state of gun laws in the U.S. They are produced by the media company ATTN:. Elaine Welteroth, the former editor in chief of Teen Vogue, will host the show.
An older generation of couch potatoes link “Nightline” to anchor Ted Koppel and executive producer Tom Bettag, who turned the program into a late-night venue for the last word on the news of the day, often featuring extended and sometimes tumultuous interviews with newsmakers. Its influence lives on in programs like MSNBC’s “11th Hour with Brian Williams.”
Since Koppel’s retirement in 2005, the program has changed. Once seen at 11:30, it swapped timeslots in 2013 with “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and now serves as a venue for on-the-ground foreign reporting, deep dives into the news of the day and investigations – but even deeper into the wee hours of the morn. Dan Harris, Juju Chang and Byron Pitts continue to anchor the program on a rotating basis.
In recent weeks, Baker says, ABC has given “Nightline” something of a refresh. There’s a new logo and a new female announcer, Randy Thomas, joined the program in late March.
Meanwhile, “Nightline” might surface elsewhere. Baker says viewers on the West Coast may see the show at 10 p.m. on certain nights over the next several weeks after certain of ABC’s basketball broadcasts. “We want to continue to grow any way we can,” he says.