Koppel’s Next Act
Ted Koppel sounded like a young boy who’s just been told that the rest of the school year will consist only of snow days.
In a phone call only a few hours after the announcement last week that Discovery Communications was ending its relationship with Mr. Koppel and his crew, he sounded positively giddy at the thought of the heavy-duty food shopping he had to do in preparation for Thanksgiving and at the prospect of going where the travel winds take him and his “long-suffering” wife, Grace Anne Dorney.
“What’s totally up to her is that we spend the next few months together doing what we want to do,” Mr. Koppel said.
Mr. Koppel, who anchored the ground-breaking “Nightline” each weeknight on ABC for a quarter-century, is not completely free of professional obligations. He’s still under contract as a contributing analyst for “BBC World News America” and as senior news analyst for National Public Radio.
“I am an official bloviator for both of them, but that’s very much a prime-time gig in both cases. It really does allow us to travel a lot and do some things together that we haven’t been able to do for many years,” he said.
In the conversation, Mr. Koppel explained the whys and wherefores of his Discovery exit, which also brings the departure of his longtime executive producer Tom Bettag.
He also responded to CNN Senior VP David Bohrman’s use of Mr. Koppel’s name and “Nightline’s” pioneering use of technological magic in defense of CNN’s Election Night holograms.
But before that, things turned giddy–and raucous—again.
TelevisionWeek: When you come down from this high–
Mr. Koppel: You mean when I’m in a s—ty mood, I should give you a call?
TVWeek: No, when you come down from this high I sense, then what do you want to do?
Mr. Koppel: I told you. Honestly, you could put me on the rack right now and I couldn’t tell you what I’m going to do next. I haven’t got a clue.
You know something? Life has a way of delivering interesting options. I’m at a stage in life where if they’re not really interesting, I won’t even look at ’em.
If they’re interesting, why not? I’m not dead.
TVWeek: No, you’re not. But that’s one reason to ask about how much you can kick back and for how long.
Mr. Koppel: I’ve never put it to the test.
TVWeek: Your contract wasn’t up until April. Why this announcement now?
Mr. Koppel: Really what happened is that a new management team came into Discovery a year and a half ago, and it very quickly became apparent to us that they were not really interested in anything news-oriented.
Tom and I, who are old-fashioned guys, we simply felt, ‘OK, we have a contract, and we promised that we would do X number of programs over the remainder of this contract,’ and we set out to do it.
They were extremely gracious about letting us do exactly what we wanted to do, but, as I say, we’re news-oriented and they’re not, and when they came to us in August and said, ‘Guys, how would you feel about ending this relationship a few months early?,’ Tom and I looked at each other and that was it. ‘Sure.’
It’s been a long discussion. They’ve been ladies and gentlemen about it. I think we have, too. There are nothing but good feelings on both sides, I trust. There’s certainly nothing but good feelings on our side. We feel that they have been very kind to us, and I feel that I’ve been able to take care of all of the producers who worked for us. They all have an opportunity now to go look for other work and they don’t have to worry about the next few months. That’s it.
Now it’s time to relax a little bit and to see what fate has in store for me.
TVWeek: David Bohrman recently defended the holograms used on CNN by saying …
Mr. Koppel: I remember having an argument with David Bohrman [at “Nightline”] when he was about 26 years old and he was the youngest senior producer. We were going to do a live feed from Mount Everest. This was many years ago. This was back in the very early 1980s. I said to David, “What the hell is the difference between a live feed of Mount Everest and a postcard of Mount Everest? Unless you have a cloud moving past the peak, they’re going to look the same.”
He, in his wisdom, said, “Ah, but being able to do it, that’s the thing.”
And you know something? He was right, because that’s the way the technology was going. That was back at a time when people were a lot less jaded, and the fact that you could get a picture, a live picture, from Mount Everest, was brilliant because it meant you could cover events, I mean actual, moving objects, from halfway around the world in the most remote places. David was a visionary in that regard.
But having said that, I don’t give him an inch on the holograms. They’re a total waste of time.