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Producer plans to keep old spirit in recast 'Nightline'

November 22, 2005|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

Ted Koppel may be leaving the building, but the journalistic soul of "Nightline" will remain intact, the show's new overseer promises.

With the revamped version of the venerable ABC News program debuting next week, executive producer James Goldston told reporters Monday that the program would still deliver the substantive reporting on major public issues that viewers expected under Koppel, whose last broadcast is tonight.

As if to underscore the point, Goldston revealed that the first week would feature a three-part story from co-host Cynthia McFadden on AIDS in India, along with reporting from her colleague Terry Moran on the Iraq war. Moran will co-host from Washington, where "Nightline" has been based since 1980. The third host, who will join McFadden in a new studio in New York's Times Square, is British broadcaster Martin Bashir.

"There are many people out there who I think are looking to sort of prejudge this show," said Goldston, the former producer of "Tonight With Trevor McDonald," a popular public-affairs show in Britain, in a conference call. "I'd like the show to be judged on what we do, rather than kind of a theoretical version of what we might do."

It's already clear, though, that the new "Nightline" will have a much different feel. In a not-so-subtle dig at Koppel and his longtime producer, Tom Bettag, Goldston said: "My hope and expectation is that we can make the show vibrant again."

In addition to the trio of anchors, as well as new music and sets, Goldston said the program will typically cover multiple topics, in sharp contrast to Koppel's famous single-theme approach.

He also hinted that "Nightline" would experiment with "teases" about upcoming stories before heading into commercial breaks -- a come-on familiar from newsmagazines but a tactic the program largely eschewed under Koppel.

"We're asking the old 'Nightline' audience to accept quite a lot of change," Goldston said. But declining ratings have made change necessary, he added. "This is an opportunity we'll take to modernize the show."

Goldston took pains, however, to "refute utterly" any speculation that "Nightline" is headed in a more tabloid-like direction, saying the revamped show will "be true to the 'Nightline' tradition."

Speculation about a tabloid drift has been driven in part by the addition of Bashir, best known in the U.S. for his interview with Michael Jackson.

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