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TV Note: 3/6/02

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Koppel responds

In his first public comments on ABC's effort to replace his program with David Letterman, "Nightline" host Ted Koppel said he hopes to stay with the network but criticized an ABC executive for questioning the show's relevance.

" 'Nightline' ... ought to have a place in television's expanding universe, and I am confident that it will. I continue to hope that will be at ABC, but that decision is beyond our control," Koppel wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed piece published yesterday.

ABC and its corporate parent, the Walt Disney Co., have had discussions with Letterman, CBS's popular late-night host, about switching networks and taking Koppel's 11:35 p.m. time slot. Badly hurt by the almost complete failure of its prime-time entertainment schedule this year, ABC is looking to make money any way it can, and some think an entertainment show appealing to young people would help.

In his Times piece, Koppel called it "perfectly understandable that Disney would jump at the opportunity to increase earnings by replacing 'Nightline' with the more profitable David Letterman show."

"For many years now I, along with my employers, have benefited hugely from 'Nightline's' commercial success," he wrote. "I understand the nature of the bargain that I made."

But, he added, "I have to confess to a slightly perverse satisfaction at the outpouring of warmth and generous support that my 'Nightline' colleagues and I have received" since word of the possible switch became public.

Koppel didn't hear from an ABC executive about the talks with Letterman until late Friday afternoon, when he took a call from Disney president Robert Iger, said an executive who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a meeting with his staff Friday, Koppel angrily dismissed characterizations of his show as losing relevance, the executive said. And in the New York Times piece, Koppel criticized an unnamed ABC executive who, he said, was quoted in an earlier Times article questioning how relevant the show is.

Meanwhile, ABC News denied a USA Today report that George Stephanopoulos and Claire Shipman have been chosen to replace Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts as hosts of "This Week," the Sunday morning public affairs talk show.

ABC News President David Westin called Donaldson morning to tell him the report was false, network spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said.

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

Minority reporter exposure

For the first time in five years, no black reporter was among the top 25 on the network evening news programs in 2001, as measured by the amount of stories they reported.

Byron Pitts of CBS and Pierre Thomas of ABC were tied for 28th place with 72 appearances on their news programs, said a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

Only one other black reporter -- Randall Pinkston of CBS -- was in the top 50, the center said. A year earlier, two black reporters made the top 10.

Overall, the study found that the number of stories reported by all minorities and women was up slightly over 2000. Eighty-eight percent of the stories were reported by whites and 75 percent by men, the report said.

The most visible network news reporter last year was John Roberts on CBS, who reported 177 stories. Robert Hager was the leader at NBC with 159 stories, followed by Terry Moran's 138 stories on ABC, the center said.

(Associated Press)

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