Nightline (or ABC News Nightline) is a late-night news program broadcast by ABC in the United States with a franchised formula to other networks and stations elsewhere in the world. Created by Roone Arledge, the program featured Ted Koppel as its main anchor from March 1980 until his retirement in November 2005. It is currently anchored by Dan Harris, Byron Pitts and Juju Chang on an alternating basis. Nightline airs weeknights from 12:37 to 1:07 a.m. Eastern Time after Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which previously served as the program's lead-out from 2003 to 2012.
In 2002, Nightline was ranked 23rd on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. It has won three Peabody Awards, one in 2001, and two in 2002 for the reports "Heart of Darkness" and "The Survivors".
Through a video-sharing agreement with the BBC, Nightline repackages some of the BBC's output for an American audience. Segments from Nightline are shown in a condensed form on ABC's overnight news program World News Now. There is also a version of Nightline for sister cable channel Fusion.
The Iran Crisis–America Held Hostage (1979)
The program had its beginnings on November 8, 1979, just four days after the start of the Iran hostage crisis. ABC News president Roone Arledge felt that 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 the occupants of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran hostage. Originally, World News Tonight lead anchor Frank Reynolds hosted the 20-minute-long special reports.
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 (e.g., Day 15, Day 50, Day 150, etc.).
Ted Koppel's Nightline (1980–2005)
At the end of the hostage crisis in 1981 (after 444 days), the program – which had been retitled the previous year as Nightline – had entrenched itself on ABC's programming schedule, and made Koppel a national figure. ABC had previously used the title "Night Line" for a short-lived 1 a.m. talk show starring Les Crane that was broadcast over the network's New York City flagship station, WABC-TV, starting in 1963.
The program originally aired four nights a week (on Monday through Thursdays) until 1982, when the sketch comedy program Fridays was shifted to air after Nightline. By this time, the news program had expanded to 30 minutes. For much of its history, the program prided itself on providing a mix of investigative journalism and extended interviews (something that continues to be featured to this day, albeit at a reduced extent), which would look out of place on World News Tonight.
The format of the show featured an 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, ABC attempted to change the program's format 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, reverting to a 31-minute structure, 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 moderate degree following Koppel's departure), though the program has caused controversy on occasion.
In 1982, Koppel interviewed Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chief Yasser Arafat on the program, in which he had indicated that he would not accept conditions from the U.S. to recognize the PLO. In 1984, the program featured an interview with Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, marking his first live television appearance. In honor of the 40th Anniversary of D-Day in 1984, Nightline aired a special edition which "covered" the landings on Normandy as though modern television news, along with satellite reports, had existed at the time. The following year in 1985, the program conducted its first on-remote broadcast from South Africa.
In 1986, the program featured interviews with the Philippines' first female president, Corazon Aquino, and outgoing president Ferdinand Marcos, the latter of which tried to defend the extravagant lifestyle (including the extensive shoe collection) of his wife Imelda during the country's economic hardship. In an interview with Nightline in 1987, Colorado Democratic senator and 1988 presidential candidate Gary Hart admitted to having cheated on his wife, Lee Ludwig, with Donna Rice, in the aftermath of an exposé in the Miami Herald that revealed the affair, leading to his withdrawal from the presidential election. That year, Nightline broadcast for the first time in the Soviet Union. In 1988, Nightline conducted a special report on-location from Jerusalem.
During Ted Koppel's tenure as anchor (and on rare occasions since his departure), 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 live broadcast from Antarctica. There were times when a major breaking news story occurred as late as 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time, resulting in the subject of that night's edition being changed in order to cover the story in some form of detail, depending on the depth of information available at the time of broadcast. Examples of this were the deaths of John Lennon (1980) and Yasser 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, one with Nelson Mandela on June 21, 1990, and one discussing the War in Iraq in 2003. The first such "Town Meeting", in 1987, was an extended edition (running for four hours and 12 minutes, until 3:47 a.m. Eastern Time, on the night of its broadcast) discussing the AIDS epidemic of that period in the U.S. 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 6, 1987. During the episode, longtime Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis (who had been with the franchise for more than 40 years at the time) 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" (although the Negro Leagues had many black managers and owners for decades). What soon followed was what many observers believed was Campanis's coming off worse and worse despite the numerous chances from Koppel to clarify himself, and then scolding Campanis for his "same kind of garbage" remarks. Shortly after the interview, the Dodgers fired Campanis. Also in 1987, the program conducted an exclusive interview with televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, following the former's sex scandal that brought down their PTL ministry.
On December 3, 1990, Nightline played Madonna's controversial music video "Justify My Love" in its entirety, then interviewed Madonna live about the video's sexual content and censorship. The video contained imagery of sadomasochism, voyeurism and bisexuality. 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.
In 1997, Nightline aired "ABC Exclusive" footage of the trial of former Cambodian Pol Pot, in violation of a verbal agreement between ABC News and freelance journalist Nate Thayer to use the footage of Pot's trial. Thayer later sued Koppel and ABC News for $30 million in punitive damages and unspecified compensatory damages.
Reading of the names
On April 30, 2004, Koppel read the names of members of the United States Armed Forces who were killed in the Iraq War since it began in March 2003. This prompted controversy from conservatives who believed that Koppel was making a political statement and from management at Hunt Valley, Maryland-based 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 night's edition. Others, most notably the television columnist for The Washington Post, thought it was a ratings stunt for sweeps; indeed Nightline was the highest-rated program during that time period, and had about 30% more viewers than other editions of the program which aired 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."
Koppel repeated the format on May 28, 2004, reading the names of service members killed in the war 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, all of Sinclair's ABC stations aired the program as scheduled.
Ratings and threats of cancellation
For many years, rumors had been spread 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. 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 away from CBS, a move that would likely have forced the network to cancel Nightline. However, Letterman opted to sign a renewed contract with CBS to remain host of the Late Show. An unverified story suggested that Letterman would have made the move had a Letterman talk show on ABC started at 12:05 a.m. Eastern Time in order to preserve Nightline. When ABC debuted Jimmy Kimmel Live! as a late-night talk competitor to Tonight and the Late Show in January 2003, it was placed at the 12:06 a.m. Eastern timeslot instead of the 11:35 p.m. slot occupied at the time by Nightline, again preventing its cancellation.
Koppel's final broadcast and "Closing Thought"
In March 2005, Ted Koppel announced that he would be leaving the show at the end of his contract. On November 22, 2005, Koppel retired from Nightline after 25 years as anchor of the program, and left ABC News after 42 years with the network, although it was an early departure from both as his contract was not set to expire until December.
Koppel's final broadcast of Nightline did not feature clips, memorable interviews or famous moments from his tenure as host, as would be typical when an anchor retires. Instead, it featured Koppel's 1995 interview with college professor Morrie Schwartz, who was suffering with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. For this broadcast, Koppel interviewed sports journalist Mitch Albom, who had been a student of Schwartz. Albom talked about how the Nightline interviews led and inspired him into contacting Schwartz personally, and then visiting him weekly. These visits became the basis of the book Tuesdays with Morrie, chronicling lessons about life learned from Schwartz.
Every so often, Koppel ended the program with a "Closing Thought", in which Koppel usually expressed his opinion on the subject of the night's broadcast. On his final night, urging viewers to continue watching the program, Koppel concluded his final Nightline broadcast with the following "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 [you] 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 (outside of pre-taped story packages) 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. The conversion to a multi-topic format has received some criticism due to the fact that it is more difficult to focus on a story subject in depth when there is much less time devoted to it, and that more stories seen on the program seem to focus more on popular culture, rather than news events. However, ratings increased after the new format was implemented, even beating the Late Show with David Letterman for three consecutive weeks in August 2006 and again in 2008.
On July 11, 2006, in his first appearance on the program since leaving Nightline in November 2005, Ted Koppel made a surprise appearance on that night's broadcast to discuss the prisoner situation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with co-anchor Terry Moran, and to discuss his then upcoming series for the Discovery Channel.
On August 7, 2006, ABC shut down Nightline's New York City operations in Times Square and moved to the ABC News Headquarters in Lincoln Square, citing high production costs and logistical problems. Despite the move, several editions have been taped at ABC's Times Square location, mainly coverage helmed by Martin Bashir. 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.
In a 2008 interview with correspondent Bob Woodruff featured on the program, former United States Senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards admitted to having had an adulterous affair unbeknownst his wife, Elizabeth, with a campaign staffer (later identified as Rielle Hunter) who worked on his campaign for the then-forthcoming 2008 presidential election, which he would drop out of. In November 2009, Nightline topped the Nielsen ratings among the major networks' late-night programs for the first time, averaging 4.15 million viewers – beating The Tonight Show and the Late Show in total viewership.
On January 20, 2011, ABC News president Ben Sherwood announced that Jimmy Kimmel Live! (for which Nightline had been serving as its lead-in since that program premiered in January 2003) would have its start time moved five minutes earlier to 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time, reducing Nightline's running time from 31 to 25 minutes. It was also announced that ABC would produce up to 13 hours of prime-time news content under the Nightline brand. For the 2011-2012 television season, Nightline again placed as the most-watched late-night television program among the major networks.
On August 21, 2012, ABC announced that the program would switch timeslots with Jimmy Kimmel Live! beginning January 8, 2013: Nightline was moved one hour later to 12:35 a.m. Eastern Time, while Kimmel 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. Upon the move, Nightline was also expanded to 30 minutes. With the move, the program introduced The Nightline 5 (abbreviated in-program as "The NTL5"), a bumper segment shown after the opening segment summary and concluding after the first commercial break (except during single-topic special editions of the program), featuring a countdown list – appearing in the left wing of the 16:9 frame when shown prior to the break – related to a story package from that night's broadcast, which airs alongside an inset commercial within the framed graphic.
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; the premiere of this program – later retitled The Lookout, which focuses mainly on consumer reports and is produced by the Nightline staff – was subsequently pushed back to May 29, 2013, airing in a Wednesday 10:00 p.m. Eastern timeslot. Another prime time version of Nightline, Nightline Prime, premiered on March 15, 2014 in a Saturday 9:00 p.m. Eastern timeslot; this series featured reporters using small cameras to cover stories from within.
In October 2013, Good Morning America weekend co-anchor Dan Harris was named as a co-anchor of Nightline, replacing Bill Weir (who had recently left ABC News to become a correspondent for CNN). In August 2014, Cynthia McFadden left Nightline and ABC News to become a correspondent for NBC News, and was replaced as co-anchor by existing ABC News correspondent (and frequent contributor to the program) Juju Chang. On December 18, 2014, it was announced that Dan Abrams would step down as an anchor of the program after that night's broadcast (although he would remain with ABC News as a correspondent and legal analyst), and would be replaced by Byron Pitts effective the following day (December 19).
Current on-air staff
Note: The anchor role for each edition is rotated between Pitts, Harris and Chang; none of them appears every night.
Former on-air staff
- Ted Koppel (1980–2005)
- Martin Bashir (2005–2010)
- Terry Moran (2005–2013)
- Bill Weir (2010–2013)
- Cynthia McFadden (2005–2014)
- Dan Abrams (2013–2014)
|Country||Network(s)||Weekly schedule (local time)|
|Australia||Sky News Australia||Airs at 1:30 a.m. (AET)|
|Japan||NHK-BS1||4:30 p.m. (JST)|
|Available through ABC stations; Airs at 12:00 a.m. on CHCH|
|Middle East and North Africa||OSN News||7:39 p.m. (KSA)|
Nightline on Fusion
On February 12, 2015, it was announced that ABC and Univision would launch a new version of Nightline on Fusion called Nightline on Fusion. It is hosted by Gio Benitez and Kimberly Brooks and airs on Tuesdays at 9 pm eastern with repeats at other times. The show is similar to the ABC version and share resources and correspondents although has emphasis on stories from the late-night program that resonate with Fusion’s younger, more culturally diverse target audience and also features original content produced for Fusion.