- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

The possible liquidation of ABC's "Nightline" and host Ted Koppel is either fraught with meaning or just plain meaningless. It is all in the eye of the beholder.
Some are mortified that Hollywood heavies at ABC's parent company Disney would have dumped the senior newscaster for CBS late night host David Letterman and a potential $160 million increase in advertising revenue. Others think it's a signal that traditional network news must finally capitulate to the 24-hour news channels, or the demands of entertainment conglomerates.
Then there are those who believe it was all meaningless hubbub between aging celebrities who make too much money.
With stealth and sarcasm, Mr. Letterman allowed on Monday night that he had turned down ABC's $31 million offer and would stay at CBS. ABC then acknowledged that "Nightline" would remain on the air, while Mr. Koppel expressed annoyance with the network's "bland assurance of short-term guarantees." He declared his show had already suffered "collateral damage."
In a statement yesterday, "Nightline" producer Leroy Sievers called Mr. Letterman "gracious," while the Associated Press reported that Disney chief Michael Eisner had called Mr. Koppel to smooth his ruffled feathers.
At least Olympic ice skater Michelle Kwan has nothing to worry about. Disney signed the 21-year-old to a three-year contract as a broadcasting, theme park, publishing and product spokesperson on Monday.
Such doings inspire drama within the ranks.
"If 'Nightline' disappears, society as a whole will suffer. This is one of the few daily broadcasts left which can still get under the skin of the issues," said Simon Marks, who registered a supportive Web site (www.savenightline.com) on March 1, the day the story first surfaced.
"I am a concerned journalist; I do this completely on my own," said Mr. Marks, Washington correspondent with Feature Story News, an independent broadcast group that produces news segments for some 50 TV and radio clients, including ABC Radio and Fox News.
"There is still room for 'Nightline,'" Mr. Marks said, adding that his Web site is getting about 1,000 visits daily.
The AFL-CIO-affiliated Newspaper Guild has urged its members to "send a message to Disney that good journalism matters … large media conglomerates will sacrifice journalism to jump at the chance for higher entertainment ratings. (Also sacrificed would be 38 NABET-CWA jobs in ABC's Washington bureau.)"
Meanwhile, an online poll at Vote.com found that 44 percent felt that ABC should dump "Nightline" because it is no longer unique; 56 percent said the show should be saved because of its prestige.
Ongoing print and broadcast reports continue to chronicle the tempest. The New York TImes, which first broke the story, now bills it as a trial for ABC News executive David Westin, who was kept out of the loop by West Coast counterparts who hatched the idea of trading news gravitas for snide high jinks.
The idea was alternately criticized and lauded by business writers, editorial cartoonists, media critics, a few politicians, broadcasters and others who share opinions on the news du jour.
"With all that's going on in the world, who cares where Letterman goes? Doesn't he have enough money already?" asked one visitor to a Yahoo message board, where a boycott of CBS advertisers had already been proposed.
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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