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Nightline (US news program)

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Nightline (US news program)

For other uses, see Nightline (disambiguation).
Format News program
Created by Roone Arledge
Presented by Cynthia McFadden (2005–present)
Dan Harris[1] (2013–present)
Dan Abrams (2013–present)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 33
Executive producer(s) Jeanmarie Condon[2]
Location(s) Times Square Studios
New York City, New York
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 20 minutes (1980–1981)
30 minutes (1981–1983)
60 minutes (1983)
31 minutes (1983–2011)
25 minutes (2011–2013)
30 minutes (2013–present)
Original channel ABC
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
720p (SDTV)[3]
Original run March 24, 1980 (1980-03-24) – present
External links

Nightline, or ABC News Nightline is a late-night news program that is broadcast by ABC in the United States, and has a franchised formula to other networks and stations elsewhere in the world. Created by Roone Arledge,[4] the program featured Ted Koppel as its main anchor from March 1980 until his retirement from the program in November 2005. Nightline airs weeknights at 12:35 a.m. Eastern Time, after Jimmy Kimmel Live!. It previously ran for 31 minutes, but in 2011, the program was reduced to 25 minutes. When the program moved to 12:35 a.m. ET, the program was expanded to 30 minutes.

In 2002, Nightline was ranked 23rd on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.[5]

The Iran Crisis–America Held Hostage (1979)

The program had its beginnings on November 8, 1979, just four days after the Iran hostage crisis started. ABC News president Roone Arledge felt the best way to compete against NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was to update Americans on the latest news from Iran. At that time, the show was called The Iran Crisis–America Held Hostage: Day "xxx", where xxx represented each day that Iranians held hostage the occupants of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Originally, World News Tonight lead anchor Frank Reynolds hosted the special report. Shortly after its creation, Reynolds stopped hosting the program. Ted Koppel, then ABC News's State Department Correspondent, took on the hosting duties. It was not until a few days later that a producer had the idea of displaying the number of days on America Held Hostage: Day 15, Day 50, Day 150, and so on.

Ted Koppel's Nightline (1980–2005)

At the end of the hostage crisis in 1981 (after 444 days), Nightline had entrenched itself on the ABC programming schedule, and made Koppel a national figure. The program has prided itself on providing a mix of investigative journalism and extended interviews which would look out of place on World News Tonight. Thanks to a video sharing agreement with the BBC, Nightline also repackages some of the BBC's output for an American audience. Segments from Nightline are also shown in a condensed form on ABC's overnight news program World News Now.

The program originally aired four nights a week until 1982, when the sketch comedy program Fridays was shifted to air after Nightline.

The format of the show featured a introduction by the host, then a taped piece on the specific topic of the night; then after a commercial break, there was a live interview related to the topic of the piece. In 1983, there was an attempt to change the format of the show to feature multiple topics and expand it to one hour as opposed to focusing on a single topic in a half-hour. This switch proved to be unsuccessful, and after a few months, the original format of the program was restored. Once the original format returned, it remained unchanged through the end of Koppel's tenure; it was changed following his retirement.

The program remains unique in American media, considering its nightly broadcasts. Most other similar shows only air once a week, though usually in a prime time slot for a full hour. Nightline is usually less sensationalistic than the weekly news magazines (which often emphasize soft news programming, stories of such type – such as pop culture-related stories – Nightline has incorporated to a limited degree following Koppel's departure), though the program has caused controversy on occasion.

Memorable subjects

Nightline devoted each episode to a unique subject. Since its inception, the program has covered many subjects (science, education, politics, economics, society, and breaking news). Many candidates for government offices, such as David Duke (in November 1991) have appeared on Nightline to try to promote themselves. Seeing that there are a large number of prisons in the United States, it created an ongoing series in 1994 called "Crime and Punishment." Over the years, Nightline had a number of technological firsts. The program did the first live report from the base of Mount Everest. In November 1992, science reporter Michael Guillen did the first ever live broadcast from Antarctica. There were times when there was a major breaking news story occurring as late as 11:00 p.m. ET, resulting in the subject of that night's edition being changed in order to cover the story. Examples of this were the deaths of John Lennon (1980) and Yasir Arafat (2004).

Other important series were "America: In Black and White" and "A Matter of Choice." Nightline held a series of town hall meetings; some of the more important ones include the Israeli-Palestinian Town Meeting in 1987 and one discussing the War in Iraq in 2003. The interview was a major portion of the episode where important people were asked tough questions on the spot. Another series of town hall meetings featured public discussions and appearances by Japanese officials on the poor performance of American business during the 1980s, contrasted with the success of Japanese businesses. These town hall meetings coincided with the corporate takeovers of U.S. companies by Japanese corporations during the early 1990s (such as MCA by Matsushita, and CBS Records and Columbia Pictures by Sony Corporation).

Perhaps the most infamous episode of Nightline occurred on April 15, 1987. During the episode, longtime Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis made racially insensitive comments. When Ted Koppel asked Campanis about why there were not that many black field or general managers in Major League Baseball, Campanis responded by saying that blacks may lack the "necessities." What soon followed was what many observers believed was Campanis coming off worse and worse despite the numerous chances from Koppel to clarify himself. Shortly after the interview, the Dodgers fired Campanis.

On December 3, 1990, Nightline played Madonna's controversial music video "Justify My Love" (the video contained imagery of sadomasochism, voyeurism and bisexuality) in its entirety, then interviewed Madonna live about the video's sexual content and censorship. When asked whether she stood to make more money selling the video than airing it on MTV, she shrugged and answered, "Yeah, so? Lucky me." She also mentioned that the banning was hypocritical as male artists were able to show music videos on the channel which contained sexist and violent imagery. She also mentioned that in her "Vogue" music video she had worn a see-through lace top which exposed her breasts, but this was passed by the channel.[6][7]


  • 1979 - ABC broadcasts "Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage" with Frank Reynolds (the forerunner to Nightline).
  • 1980 - ABC's nightly Iran Hostage crisis program is renamed Nightline.
  • 1981 - Nightline with Ted Koppel is extended from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.
  • 1981 - Nightline with Ted Koppel premieres on ABC.
  • 1981 - Nightline expands from four nights to five nights a week (expanding to Friday nights).
  • 1982 - PLO chief Yassar Arafat appears on Nightline.
  • 1983 - Nightline briefly expands from a half-hour to a full-hour program.
  • 1984 - First live TV appearance by Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger.
  • 1984 - The 40th Anniversary of D-Day. Nightline "covers" the D-Day landings as though modern television news, along with satellite reports, had existed at the time.
  • 1985 - First remote location for Nightline (South Africa).
  • 1986 - Corazon Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos appear on Nightline.[8]
  • 1987 - Al Campanis, Los Angeles Dodgers executive for more than forty years, resigns after making racially insensitive remarks on Nightline.
  • 1987 - Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker appear on Nightline after the PTL scandal.
  • 1987 - Nightline presents its first "Town Meeting" the subject is AIDS and the show runs until 3:47 a.m. ET.
  • 1987 - Gary Hart admits on Nightline to cheating on his wife.
  • 1987 - Nightline is seen in U.S.S.R. for first time.
  • 1988 - Nightline goes on location to Jerusalem.
  • 1997 - Nightline airs "ABC Exclusive" footage of Pol Pot's trial, in violation of an agreement with journalist Nate Thayer[9]
  • 2005 - Ted Koppel's last show as host of Nightline.
  • 2008 - John Edwards admits on Nightline to cheating on his wife with a campaign staffer.

Reading of the names

On April 30, 2004, Koppel read the names of members of the United States Armed Forces who were killed in Iraq. This prompted controversy from conservatives who believed Koppel was making a political statement and from television station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group, which felt that ABC was undermining the war effort in Iraq; in protest, Sinclair forced its ABC-affiliated stations to not air that edition.[10][11] Others, most notably the television columnist for The Washington Post, thought it was a ratings stunt for sweeps, and indeed Nightline was the highest-rated program during that time period, and had about 30% more viewers than other Nightline programs that week. ABC responded to the controversy, saying that the program was meant to be "an expression of respect which seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country."[11]

Koppel repeated the format on May 28, 2004, reading the names of service members killed in Afghanistan, and on May 30, 2005, reading the names of all service members killed in Afghanistan or Iraq between the last program and the preparation of the program. This time, Sinclair's ABC stations aired the program as scheduled.

Ratings and threats of cancellation

Rumors have spread for many years about the show's possible cancellation. However, during the so-called "late night wars" of 1993, when the Late Show with David Letterman began competing with The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, some in the industry believed that Nightline would wind up in first place. And on occasion, when a significant news story occurred, Nightline would top its entertainment rivals in the ratings.

In 2002, ABC attempted to hire David Letterman from CBS, a move that would likely have forced Nightline's cancellation. However, Letterman opted to re-sign with CBS. An unverified story suggests that Letterman would have made the move had a Letterman talk show on ABC started at 12:05 a.m. ET in order to preserve Nightline. When ABC debuted Jimmy Kimmel Live! in January 2003, it was placed at the 12:06 a.m. timeslot instead of the 11:35 p.m. slot of Nightline, again preventing its cancellation.

Koppel anchored his final Nightline broadcast on November 22, 2005, despite his contract ending in December. Koppel announced in March 2005 he was leaving the show at the end of his contract. He closed his final Nightline broadcast urging viewers to continue watching the program, saying that otherwise, "it could be replaced by a comedy show".[12] Ratings have increased since the new format was implemented, even beating the Late Show with David Letterman for three consecutive weeks in August 2006 and again in 2008. In fact, Nightline was the most-watched late-night television program during the 2011-2012 television season.

Koppel's final "Closing Thought"

On November 22, 2005, Ted Koppel retired from Nightline after 25 years with the show, and left ABC News after 42 years. Koppel's final broadcast of Nightline did not feature clips, or highlighting moments, as typical when an anchor retires. Instead, it featured Koppel's 1995 interview with college professor Morrie Schwartz, who was suffering with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Every so often, Koppel ended the program with a "Closing Thought". This segment is usually when he expressed his opinion on the subject of the night's broadcast. On his final night, the following was his "Closing Thought".

There's this quiz I give to some of our young interns when they first arrive at Nightline. I didn't do it with the last batch; it's a little too close to home. "How many of you", I'll ask, "can tell me anything about Eric Sevareid?" Blank stares. "How about Howard K. Smith or Frank Reynolds?" Not a twitch of recognition. "Chet Huntley? John Chancellor?" Still nothing. "David Brinkley" sometimes causes a hand or two to be raised, and Walter Cronkite may be glad to learn that a lot of young people still have a vague recollection that he once worked in television news.

What none of these young men and women in their late teens and early twenties appreciates, until I point it out to them, is that they have just heard the names of seven anchormen or commentators who were once so famous that everyone in the country knew their names. Everybody.

Trust me, the transition from one anchor to another is not that big a deal. Cronkite begat Rather, Chancellor begat Brokaw, Reynolds begat Jennings. And each of them did a pretty fair job in his own right. You've always been very nice to me, so give this new anchor team for Nightline a fair break. If you don't, I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. Then you'll be sorry. And that's our report for tonight, I'm Ted Koppel in Washington and from all of us here at ABC News, good night.

Post-Koppel Nightline (2005–present)

On November 28, 2005, Koppel was succeeded by a three-anchor team: Martin Bashir and Cynthia McFadden at Times Square Studios in New York City and Terry Moran in Washington, D.C.. Along with the new anchors, Nightline began airing live each night and switched to a multi-topic format (similar to the format attempted during the short-lived 1983 expansion to an hour-long broadcast, although condensed to fit a half-hour timeslot) – that covers multiple stories in each broadcast. There are many critics of the multi-topic format due to the fact that it is more difficult to focus on a subject in depth when there is much less time devoted to the subject, and that more stories seem to be focusing on popular culture, rather than news events.[13]

On July 11, 2006, Ted Koppel, in his first appearance on the program since leaving Nightline in November 2005, made a surprise appearance on that night's broadcast to discuss with co-anchor Terry Moran the prisoner situation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and to discuss his upcoming series for Discovery Channel.

On August 7, 2006, ABC shut down Nightline's New York City operations from Times Square and moved to ABC News Headquarters in Lincoln Square, citing high production costs and logistical problems. Even though Nightline moved to the Lincoln Square headquarters, several shows have been taped at ABC's Times Square location, mainly with Martin Bashir's coverage. In 2009, Nightline announced that an online program was in development that would be hosted by the show's anchors through Twitter, encouraging viewer discussion on the website.[14]

In November 2009, Nightline achieved the number-one spot in the Nielsen ratings among late night television programs on the major networks, the first time averaging 4.15 million viewers – beating The Tonight Show and The Late Show in total viewers.


In August 2010, Martin Bashir left Nightline to serve as a correspondent with NBC News and host a daytime news/interview program on MSNBC; he was subsequently replaced by Bill Weir.

On January 20, 2011, ABC News president Ben Sherwood announced that the late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! (which was Nightline's lead-in at the time) would have its start time moved five minutes earlier to 12 a.m. ET, reducing Nightline to 25 minutes. It was also announced that ABC would produce up to 13 hours of primetime news content under the Nightline brand.

On August 21, 2012, ABC announced that the program would switch timeslots with Jimmy Kimmel Live! beginning January 8, 2013, and expand back to 30 minutes; Nightline was moved one hour later to 12:35 a.m. ET, while Jimmy Kimmel Live! moved to the program's former 11:35 p.m. timeslot, in order to compete with fellow late night talk shows The Tonight Show and the Late Show with David Letterman.[15][16][17][18]

As part of this move, ABC also announced that it would launch a prime time news magazine extension of Nightline, which was originally scheduled to premiere on March 1, 2013;[19][20] The premiere of this program, since retitled The Lookout – which is produced by the Nightline staff and focuses mainly on consumer reports, was subsequently pushed back to May 29, 2013, airing in a Wednesday 10 p.m. ET timeslot.[21]

On-air staff

Current on-air staff


Former on-air staff


International broadcasts

Country TV Network(s) Weekly Schedule (local time)
 Australia Sky News Australia Airs at 1:30 a.m. (AET)
 Canada CHCH-DT
Simulcast of ABC
 Japan NHK-BS1 4:30 p.m. (JST)

See also


External links

  • website
  • ABC Medianet Website
  • Nightline Story on Spam Arrest & Hormel Trademark Battle
  • Internet Movie Database
  • YouTube

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