After Ted Koppel’s last show this Thanksgiving, ABC’s Nightline will begin broadcasting live from Times Square—at least if new executive producer James Goldston has his way.
Two weeks ago, in a meeting with Burbank-based network officials, Mr. Goldston laid out a bold and costly vision for the acclaimed, 25-year-old, single-anchor, single-topic program.
And that vision, according to network sources familiar with the content of the presentation, is this: three anchors, three correspondents and a live broadcast originating from the old studio in Washington and a new one in New York.
A network official confirmed that the show would be broadcast out of both locations but wouldn’t say whether Mr. Goldston indeed envisions basing the show in the Disney-owned studios at 1500 Broadway. A Nightline spokesperson said that the Washington bureau wouldn’t suffer from the show’s shift to New York, as many D.C.-based staffers fear.
“We don’t expect there to be layoffs,” the spokesperson said. “If anything, we’ll be expanding the staff.”
The network has already been interviewing candidates for New York–based positions and will officially post the jobs in the coming days, sources said. As for the big guns, Mr. Goldston proposed having Cynthia McFadden and Martin Bashir anchor from New York and Terry Moran from Washington, sources said.
These three have been the subject of near-constant speculation since Mr. Goldston was appointed executive producer this summer. They were identified as the most likely successors in articles last week in the New York Post and The Washington Post. Ms. McFadden is a co-host of Primetime and Mr. Moran is currently the ABC News chief White House correspondent.
Before he was picked to succeed Tom Bettag as executive producer, Mr. Goldston, a British-born producer who had a long and vaunted career with ITV2 and the BBC, worked with Mr. Bashir on his famous documentary Living with Michael Jackson. Mr. Bashir is a correspondent for ABC’s 20/20.
As for the three correspondents, sources said that Mr. Goldston’s wish list included Nightline correspondent John Donvan, CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts and former View co-host and National Geographic Channel correspondent Lisa Ling.
On this question, the ABC spokesperson said, “No decisions have been made. We’re still in discussions, and when we’re ready to make an announcement, we will.” A CBS spokesperson, who said the network typically doesn’t discuss personnel matters, made an exception, saying, “Byron is supremely talented and will be at the network for a long time to come.”
A spokesperson from National Geographic sent the following statement:
“Lisa is a very credible, skilled reporter and we certainly are not surprised that Nightline might be interested in her talents …. Lisa is also involved in other projects while working with NGC, including her work as a correspondent for Oprah, and we would certainly be open to other opportunities, such as Nightline.”
Network sources said that Mr. Goldston’s proposal was expensive and broad, reflecting the producer’s oft-repeated mantra of “big ideas, good ideas.” The proposed staff changes, if given final approval, will take effect after Mr. Koppel’s last broadcast on Nov. 22. Mr. Koppel and Mr. Bettag announced last spring that they would be leaving the network before the end of the year, an announcement that came after years of tension with network executives, stemming from ABC’s failed 2002 bid to lure David Letterman to Nightline’s 11:35 p.m. time slot.
Since then—and up until this recent reversal—executives have been dismissing rumors that the network would shift the heart of the show to Manhattan at the first opportunity.
Mr. Koppel and Mr. Bettag are starting a production company and are rumored to be working on a deal with HBO, though the duo have indicated they won’t announce anything until after their run with Nightline ends. They’ll be taking a small number of Nightline staffers with them, and are in the midst of a delicate process of choosing and notifying the happy few.
Meanwhile, during the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, when Mr. Koppel was anchoring from the Gulf Coast, Nightline’s audience topped 5 million viewers for the first time in a long while. In the first week after the hurricane, it beat both Letterman and Leno, recalling its earliest days as a high-rating, in-depth breaking-news show during the hostage crisis in Iran.
TV Fest Gathers Media, Meta-Media
On the second day of the inaugural New York Television Festival, an impromptu TV Land tableau formed in the middle of 15th Street.
At the center was Renee Rizzo, a flaxen-haired actress who stars as the daughter in a distinguished auto-racing family in the indie drama Second Wind, one of 26 pilots selected to screen at the festival.
Ms. Rizzo stood outside the Milk Studios, a meatpacking-district gallery that served as festival headquarters, and answered questions from a reporter while a cameraman filmed. A second cameraman, documenting the festival, videotaped the guy videotaping the interview. A third, part of a reality-show crew, filmed the first two.
Such is the state of the medium, if the New York Television Festival is any reflection: young, happy, indulgent, bold in subject, limitless in ambition, obsessed with itself. At least five of the distinguished panelists at the festival cited with glee a statistic released last week by Nielsen Media Research claiming that the average American household watches a little more than eight hours of television a day. Half a dozen of the shows accepted into the festival took TV itself as their main subject.
What’s on television these days? Television’s on television!
The five-day event, which began on Sept. 28 and ran through the weekend, was conceived on the theory that television, like film, could benefit from a little more self-scrutiny and a little more indie spirit. It featured a packed schedule of panels, screenings, cocktail parties, special events, awards presentations, foreign-television appreciations, and assorted casual hallway, elevator and restroom networking opportunities.
It was, as NYTVF director and mastermind Terence Gray put it, “a real festival.”
But attending felt a little like watching TV. Events overlapped on the schedule. Not enjoying the special appreciation of Australian television? Surf on downstairs to a comedy-pilot block. Or go take a nap and come back for the evening screening of I Love the ’80s: 3D and see how it feels to almost get hit in the face with Muammar Qaddafi’s kaffiyeh. If only this thing came with TiVo.
Instead, it came with a panel on TiVo, during which a handful of network executives and lawyers wrestled with all the big industry maxims du jour. Throughout the week, there was talk of “sub-brands” and “commercial retention.” No fewer than six panelists anticipated a “breakthrough moment” or a forthcoming “next big thing.” “Content,” evidently, “is still king,” according to A&E senior vice president of programming Nancy Dubuc. “Everyone’s a competitor now,” said Michael Hirschorn, the executive vice president of production and programming at VH1. “Funny is funny,” said Bill Persky, writer and producer of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
At the opening party on Wednesday night, Tom Bergeron, former host of Hollywood Squares, sat in the gallery space, on a bench made of old-fashioned Rice Krispies boxes, and did his own bit of contemplation of the future of his industry. Also in attendance at the party were a few high-powered New York talent agents, several dozen hungry-looking independent television-makers, TLC reality-show star Genevieve Gorder and two women dressed as the Doublemint Twins. They exchanged business cards, arranged meetings, and talked about how great it was that there was finally a festival for the small screen.
The party’s theme, interpreted loosely, was vintage television. The caterer served White Castle burgers and Twinkies. The bar served vodka cocktails with names like Boob Tuber (Absolut peach, orange juice, grenadine).
Mr. Bergeron, who now hosts ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, was in town to serve as a judge at the festival, choosing winners in six categories (comedy, drama, reality, documentary, animation, student). He said that he found much cause for optimism for young people who want to go into television. Then he talked about Gene Rayburn, the late host of The Match Game. Apparently, game-show insiders refer to Mr. Rayburn’s long, skinny microphone as a “proctologist’s mic.”
These were the sort of revelations the festival offered. At a panel in the Milk Gallery on Thursday night, The Simpsons’ executive producer Mike Scully said he’d received a memo from the network saying that animators were no longer allowed to draw Homer’s ass. At a panel about daytime television, an ABC suit said Disney wouldn’t let them say the word “abortion” on a soap opera.
In a panel on Friday afternoon, über-agent Richard Leibner, Fox anchor Bill Hemmer, former NBC News president Richard Wald, NBC correspondent John Siegenthaler and CBS correspondent Tracy Smith puzzled through the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the news media. In the front row, a woman wearing fake python boots, a fake python jacket and a red tank top with the name of her reality show, Heads or Tails, pitched the concept to a man from the N.S. Bienstock agency, who was sitting quietly two seats away.
“I used to be in television news,” she said. He smiled.
“I really love my dogs,” she continued. His smile stretched.
“So it made sense to do a dating show, where we set up people and their pets.”
Ahh, said the man. “Cute.”
Mr. Gray said a dozen producers were in talks with agents and network representatives as a result of the festival, but cautioned that no deals had been signed. Through it all, the indie folk themselves remained cautiously optimistic.
“My expectations going in were that we would go there, show our show, have a good time, maybe meet some people,” said Matt Sloan, half of the team behind The Splu Urtaf Show, a pleasantly incomprehensible bit of programming most likely best viewed stoned. Splu is a collection of sketches—in one, a Hallmark-greeting-card writer explains how he gets his inspiration by breaking bottles on his head—joined together with short scenes of the two stars driving around and smoking cigarettes.
Winners were announced Monday in a small ceremony at Gracie Mansion. Splu didn’t take home the crown. But Mr. Sloan, reached after the festival at the University of Wisconsin bookstore, where he is a special-orders buyer, said that he and his partner, Aaron Yonda, had spoken to several agents and network representatives interested in their show.
“We’re in the process of setting up some meetings,” he said. “Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks we’ll come back to the city, talk to television people about television things.”
A surprise non-winner in the reality category was a program called Knock Knock, which features Fred Willard, of the celebrated Christopher Guest mockumentary ensemble, “unexpectedly” dropping in on “stars.” In the pilot, he visits Phyllis Diller at her ample Beverly Hills estate, and why this woman doesn’t have a show of her own is a question some network executive should promptly consider.
Ms. Diller takes her visitor and the audience—which, at this particular screening, was one person, The Observer—on a tour.
The journey began in the “Bob Hope sa-lon” and progressed through the Gin Room, the Scarlet Scullery and on to the Wig and Strange Costume Emporium, with our guide appearing genuinely surprised to find that each room not only exists but is also furnished and decorated—by whose doing, she evidently has no idea.
“It’s always full of flowers,” she says of the loggia and shrugs her shoulders.
“One day I sat down and wrote a story about my favorite home,” Ms. Diller said, “and isn’t that creepy? It was just like this.
“See,” she continued, talking directly into the camera, reiterating the NYTVF mantra: “dreams do come true.”