You tell'm Ted!
March 5, 2002 4:57 AM   Subscribe

You tell'm Ted! (nyt link) Koppel is first to publically denounce accusations that Nightline is irrelevant or lacks a competitive edge in the late night wars. David Letterman is still strangely silent about rumors that ABC is trying to steal him from CBS to replace Ted Koppel's long-running news program. Perhaps after publically ribbing Oprah Winfrey & getting the cold shoulder, Letterman has learned when not to open his mouth? ..nah!
posted by ZachsMind (14 comments total)
And yes I'm very shocked and dismayed at myself that I have stooped to posting a New York Times link. I have no excuse and am ashamed of myself.

I also found this. "For their part, some CBS officials say they believe that it is difficult to communicate with Mr. Letterman because his closest advisers back him automatically and uncritically in disagreements with management." In other words, Dave is smart enough not to allow executives to surround him with people they trust.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:11 AM on March 5, 2002

> I'm very shocked and dismayed at myself that I have
> stooped to posting a New York Times link.

I should have thought you'd be more ashamed at having posted something to do with television-business gossip. The New York Times is more important than Letterman and Koppel and Winfrey together.
posted by pracowity at 5:36 AM on March 5, 2002

...Broadcasts like our five-part series on Congo have no outlet anywhere else on television.

That's not exactly true, even if Koppel implied broadcast, not cable television. PBS does a pretty good job with lengthy, expository news pieces, such as FrontLine (a crucial source of objective Bin Laden and Islamic fundamentalism background material in the days immediately following 9/11) and Newshour (where each segment is 15-20 minutes long, compared with the typical 90-second summary on the big three newscasts.)

With cable and satellite, there exists a market and a delivery mechanism for any type of programming that appeals to a niche audience, be it foreign news or whatever. The success of Koppel in late-night speaks to the fact that he has attracted not just a niche, but a "super-niche" audience, much like that of 60 Minutes.

ABC's mistake is that they are obsessed with the quirks of the 11:30 timeslot that drive the Leno/Letterman ratings, notably the need to have a strong network lead-in - a quality 10:00 program and high-rated 11:00 local news. In truth, it is the opposite effect with ABC. Nightline is the "appointment" program; its viewers are too intelligent to watch it simply because they were too lazy to change the channel. It boosts the 10:00 and 11:00 shows, not the other way around. Obviously its ratings will be weaker than Leno - Koppel's not funny! But its ratings in comparison to other news programs, and its relative profitability, is extraordinary. It would be silly for ABC to abandon what has worked so well for so many years, just to join a ratrace that will end up alienating millions of TV viewers.
posted by PrinceValium at 6:08 AM on March 5, 2002

Is it me, or did this piece really read more like a slightly indignant farewell than anything else? I think Ted's just putting on a tough game face before going gently into that good night.
posted by briank at 6:20 AM on March 5, 2002

There is no doubt in my mind that Letterman's silence is simply a negotiating technique he is using to keep both ABC and CBS in doubt as far as where he stands. His rift with his boss at CBS is well documented, and I doubt very much that he will be returning there. Of course, he could just be looking for more money than they are willing to pay.
posted by bump at 6:26 AM on March 5, 2002

I sort of agree with you, briank -- there are some giveaways in the opening of the piece that he suspects that this may be the end.

One thing this brings to mind: it's not that I consider Nightline a national treasure or anything of the sort, but wasn't there a lot of talk a few months ago about how Sept. 11 had drawn Americans back to the importance of "hard news"? We were, it was often implied, going to be entering a period of uncertainty and the need for reliable sources of information and analysis that would refresh viewer demand for programs like Nightline.

There's something grimly funny for me in the way we've returned to infotainment business-as-usual with relative quickness.
posted by BT at 6:36 AM on March 5, 2002

Obviously its ratings will be weaker than Leno - Koppel's not funny!

Neither is Leno last I checked.
posted by panopticon at 6:54 AM on March 5, 2002

Kudos to Ted for speaking out, however I also agree that his piece had a certain sense of "this is already a done deal" to it.
posted by spilon at 7:37 AM on March 5, 2002

Aren't Letterman and Koppel long-time friends? Upon further reflection that could be partly why Letterman's keeping his mouth shut.

pracowity: "...The New York Times is more important..."

I was not referring to the quality of NYT. They deserve the respected offline reputation they have aquired. I don't like the trend NYT set with their premium service and free registration. However, since they started that, most other websites have followed suit. I have more 'username & password' for more websites than I can possibly remember. Such is progress.

bump: "Of course, he could just be looking for more money than they are willing to pay."

Actually it's other things he's wanting besides just the money. This article describes the situation differently. Letterman has asked for a lot of money, but compared to that of other television talents, he's actually quite a deal. What Letterman really wants is more creative control, and job security for his employees, even after his retirement. These are things that network suits don't like giving up to the talent.

Remember when Craig Kilborn had The Daily Show, before he got his own program which is officially called The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn? Now, The Daily Show is called The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. The Tonight Show was just The Tonight Show when Steve Allen ran it. Johnny Carson had it changed to The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Dave's show is The Late Show With David Letterman and now Leno's got The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. That's the kind of thing network suits like giving to talent. Name recognition. It doesn't cost the suits anything. However, suits also insist on keeping legal ownership of the front part of the program's name. When Dave left NBC for CBS, the suits insisted he couldn't take "Late Night" with him. Conan O'Brien got Late Night, even though Dave's Late Show still looks like what Late Night used to be. If Dave goes to ABC, odds are he won't be able to call it a Show. Sounds petty to me, but that's suits for ya.

Spilon: "His piece had a certain sense of "this is already a done deal" to it."

That's not how I read it, but that could be accurate. To me it read like he was defending his case for why his show is still relevant, but simultaneously was admitting the people making those decisions are too stupid to see it. It's like the problem CBS has had with 60 Minutes in recent years: a competent program that appeals to an older demographic. Advertisers don't like that much which is who networks like ABC are really wanting to please.

However, it's not because of cable news programming or even shows like Dateline or 20/20 in prime time that causes Nightline to lose its luster. Nightline's survived 20 years despite such competition. I agree with Koppel that his show is still relevant. If only there was another timeslot. I'd like to be able to see both Letterman and Koppel. I usually only catch Koppel if Letterman's a repeat.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:00 AM on March 5, 2002

did this piece really read more like a slightly indignant farewell than anything else?

Yeah. The inevitable appeal to sentiment journalists always make when they feel their back is against the wall always comes out badly, and yet they are the only ones that don't seem to know it. (I've seen this from inside the ranks, too, and it's infuriating.) At least Koppel made some actual business arguments, however -- which is a recent development in this story. The Times had an earlier story in which they described Disney execs as insisting "that they would not let what they considered to be a sentimental attachment to an aging news program get in the way of righting the corporate ship" -- which is exactly right. The argument journalists need to make is, good news programs are essential for keeping that ship on course.

I think there are a few good arguments they could make in that regard -- especially concerning how a viewer base feels about a network if they can count on them for important, relevant and accurate news -- and it's just dumb that even the execs at ABC News can't get their heads out of their asses and argue their case on its merits.
posted by mattpfeff at 9:32 AM on March 5, 2002

Ted Who?
posted by HTuttle at 9:34 AM on March 5, 2002

Unlike Leno and Koppel, Letterman owns his show flat out.

He can take the show and all of the episodes produced and do whatever he wants with them.He would have to leave the Ed Sullivan Theatre, though.

He isn't going anywhere, he'll stay at CBS.

He's one of the smartest people in broadcasting.He's just showing CBS that he has options.Most of this story is just the media getting carried away, as usual.

Besides, Letterman doesn't want to be the guy that killed the suddenly oh-so-beloved Nightline.
posted by BarneyFifesBullet at 12:12 PM on March 5, 2002

Koppel's show is insignificant. He, and/or the show, can easily be transported to any other network, broadcast or cable. However...there is no need for it. With CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Discovery, PBS, Nat'l Geographic, TLC, History Channel, etc, etc, etc, the loss of one 22-minute program won't amount to a hill of beans. It served a purpose, way back in the period following the Iranian hostage crisis, but its relevance was quickly outpaced by the proliferation of all-news channels and niche programming. Adios, Ted; thanks for the good times, but its' over. Unless you want to host a program on CNN.

And BTW, do the Big Three networks even NEED a news department anymore? Why bother? Let them do what they have longed to do for years - go for the sheer entertainment. Leave the news to the outfits that are designed to do so. Two cents, FWIW.
posted by davidmsc at 4:30 PM on March 5, 2002

You tell'm Bill!
posted by homunculus at 12:37 PM on March 7, 2002

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