News your connection to The Boston Globe

The best TV anchor I never watched

EVEN THOUGH I stopped watching "Nightline" many years ago, I am sorry Ted Koppel will no longer be anchoring it.

I also feel guilty about my role in his demise.

If I could stay up late enough to watch the program, perhaps ABC would not be replacing Koppel with three anchors, including Martin Bashir, a former BBC reporter, who is best known for interviewing Princess Diana and Michael Jackson. But too often, I'm asleep by 9 p.m. — OK, maybe 10 p.m., if a doomsday hurricane drowns a major American city and it takes more than a week to rescue its inhabitants.

By 11:30 p.m., baby boomers like me are deep into dreamland. When insomnia strikes at 2 a.m., it's time to tiptoe down to the laptop to see what happened in the world since falling asleep to a soothing kitchen makeover on Home and Garden Television.

But of course, it wasn't always that way between me and "Nightline." In March 1980, Koppel parlayed "The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage" into a nightly news show. For a long time, we were steady dates. He was must-see TV.

Koppel is known for being cool and cerebral, but I liked watching him because he was passionate, as in passionately curious, passionately well-prepared, and passionately unafraid to ask tough questions. His dry wit wasn't fall-out-of-your-bed funny, but it could take you beyond your bedcovers and fuzzy slippers, to a cocktail party filled with smart but not overly insufferable people, who love discussing current events.

Like any well-compensated network TV anchor, Koppel was self-assured and sometimes a bit too smug. But his cockiness still falls dramatically short of the egomaniacal bombast of you-know-who.

The hair as helmet could be a distraction, but overall, the fact that Koppel wasn't Anderson Cooper-cute generated additional respect for him as an anchor. He was a journalist with a deep-enough voice and pleasant-enough appearance to make it on TV. But first, he was a journalist.

His goal was to get behind the news and explain it, not to energize the base for the current White House administration. Koppel helped the viewer make sense out of the complex and incomprehensible, which, in a sign of more innocent times, defined the Iran hostage crisis. It was straightforward, informed, and informative television, as far as it gets from a passel of self-absorbed talking heads shouting their opinions, informed or not, at the viewer and each other.

If only it weren't broadcast while I slept.

Why can't anyone anchor a "Nightline"-like show before my bedtime? Why, at 8 p.m., is it a choice between "The O'Reilly Factor" (egomaniacal bombast; see above), "Paula Zahn Now" (no Ted Koppel), "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" (no Paula Zahn), a rerun of "Friends" (escapist but irrelevant), or a rerun of the "Daily Show" (funny but dated)? That lineup often drives me straight to HGTV, where "Designed to Sell" at least gives me useful tips on how to make my home attractive to buyers. Before that, it's "Hardball with Chris Matthews," whose red-faced host is too anxiety-inducing after a day at work, or "The Fox Report with Shepard Smith" — worth checking in on, if only to honor his willingness to tell off Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity in the dark aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I rarely watch network news anymore. The timing is inconvenient, coming just when the family realizes we are all hungry and no one cooked anything. After dinner, it's time to drive someone to basketball practice or help with homework. Finally, there's a window for television-watching, but it's filled with an "Everybody Loves Raymond" rerun. If I want a quick news update, it's CNN, my local New England Cable News network — or my laptop.

Koppel had a great run for 25 years as the "Nightline" anchor. Above all, he presided over smart, dignified television. In fact, if broadcast during a family-friendly time, such a program could be a magnet for people of all ages who are interested in the world beyond "SpongeBob" and ESPN. They are out there somewhere, I just know it. And if I were a bigtime television executive, I would think hard about giving those people something to watch.

In the meantime, I miss the idea of Koppel anchoring "Nightline" even though I stopped watching him do it.

I'm sorry, Ted.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search