Why Nightline Isn't What It Used to Be

There's a reason Nightline, ABC's nightly news program, was able to hold its own for decades against the stiff competition of Johnny Carson's Tonight show. When Ted Koppel was the anchor for 25 years, it was one of the best destinations on the air for viewers to get multiple sides of any current events story.  Since Koppel left, it just hasn't been the same.  Now, it has become like any other newsmagazine program.  Gone are the days when Koppel would moderate each night a panel debate of experts from both sides of the political spectrum, when he would hold town meetings to gauge the reaction of average citizens after a national tragedy, when he would be the voice of reason about a divisive topic that was in the news. 

Unable to fill Koppel's shoes with one anchor alone, three attempted to do the job -- Martin Bashir, Cynthia McFadden, and Terry Moran, and later Bill Weir.  I used to watch the show regularly, and my interest in it started waning as the topics covered seemed to become more and more frivolous and trivial.  Celebrity profiles and pop culture trends became the norm in place of in-depth analysis of more meaningful issues. As a die-hard fanatic of all things popular culture, it's revealing that even I found the fluff that passed for news on the new Nightline to be nothing more than an enormous waste of time.

When Koppel signed off for the last time, he warned his viewers to give his replacements a chance, or, he joked, they might be replaced with "another comedy show." His words proved to be prophetic as ABC announced that Jimmy Kimmel Live would take over the timeslot opposite The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman, pushing Nightline to later after midnight and cutting it back to only half an hour. 

The blame, however, should not fall on the public. We can't blame viewers for rejecting what Nightline has become.  Comedians like Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert are providing more compelling and thought-provoking commentary than the bland, weak excuse for journalism that populates our airwaves today.

I wonder how long Nightline will last in its new iteration.  ABC is also scheduling a few primetime episodes, so maybe the brand will eventually become another by-the-numbers newsmagazine program that's broadcast between 7 and 11 p.m. seven days a week. It's a shame, because in its heyday, it was a beacon of the Fourth Estate, and as such it will be missed.