Koppel on Discovery: The People's Republic of Capitalism 1993 - 1994, 2007 - 2008, 2011 - 2012 (TV Show)
For 25 years, Ted Koppel anchored the popular late-night news program, "Nightline" (ABC, 1980- ), sending millions of viewers to sleep with a confidence matching his own that the day's news - and the leaders shaping events - were not left unexamined. Whether it was the Iran hostage crisis, the 1995 terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building or the mind-numbing minutia of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Koppel covered the news with a probing intelligence and keen eye for fairness, earning him a reputation as one of the best interviewers in professional journalism. Atop his assured on-camera persona, Koppel was well-respected by coworkers and colleagues alike, though he was often chided for his Howdy Doody-reminiscent hairstyle, a routine jab he countered with typical grace and humor. By 2005, however, Koppel's era at ABC was over. For his final sign off, Koppel demanded the same fairness of his audience that they routinely received from him, asking them to give the new anchor team a "fair shake" and to know that, despite the transition, they were still in good hands.
Koppel was born in Lancashire, England, after his Jewish parents fled from Nazi Germany in 1938. Educated in British boarding schools, Koppel was forced to endure hazing rites unchanged since the previous century, teaching him a "sense of inner privacy." At 13, his family emigrated to New York where he attended McBurney School. After being turned down by Princeton, he enrolled at Syracuse University where he began working at the radio station. He then moved on to Stanford University where he earned his master's in communication and met Grace Ann Dorney, whom he soon married. The couple moved to New York where Koppel tried to start a career in journalism - the spark of which was ignited while listening to Edward R. Murrow as a boy in England - by taking the Associated Press test, which he failed. After a brief stint as a teacher, he was hired as a copyboy for local radio station, WMCA. Then in 1963, Koppel convinced WABC to hire him, despite being 23 years-old and looking even younger. The third-rate network agreed, and he became the youngest correspondent ever hired by the station.
Three years after landing his correspondent assignment, Koppel was shipped to Vietnam where he spent two years covering the war. He returned to the states in 1968 to cover Richard Nixon's presidential campaign, then served as the network's Hong Kong bureau chief from 1969-1971. Extensive time away from home prompted him to accept a job covering the State Department, then under command of the controversial Henry Kissinger, with whom Koppel became good friends, thanks in part to long plane rides where the secretary gave foreign policy tutorials to the press corps. By 1976, Koppel had become a valuable asset to ABC, which was why his departure to spend time cooking, cleaning and taking care of the kids while his wife attended law school became grist for the gossip mill. Koppel did, however, contribute regular radio commentaries and occupied the anchor desk on Saturdays. He returned to active reporting at the State Department the following year. In 1979, he hosted a nightly program that covered and often overly dramatized the Iran hostage crisis. The ratings for the special report prompted the senior vice president to start a new program, "Nightline," with Koppel as host. The show became a permanent addition to the ABC lineup in March 1980.
For the next 25 years, Koppel conducted his role as host of "Nightline" as if he were a referee inside the ring. His flair for probing questions coupled with a fairness that allowed both sides of an issue to be expressed, quickly gave Koppel the reputation as being one of the best interviewers in the business - and one of the smartest people on television. His method of operation, however, was radically different from other news anchors - he rarely prepared questions, instead relying on feeling out his guests and using their reactions for his next line of questioning. Along with his uncanny ability to detect dissembling, Koppel's hard-and-fast rule of interviewing guests via monitor hook-up and earpiece rather than face-to-face - which kept guests disconnected and on edge - gave him a distinct advantage. Only a few occasions - namely his interviews with Jesse Jackson and former Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis - were guests allowed a direct confrontation. Meanwhile, he routinely held guests on the defensive as he probed relentlessly, but politely, for the truth - whether the story was Iran-contra, the Clinton impeachment or the federal government's botched rescue effort after Hurricane Katrina.
Over the years, Koppel was accused of occasionally diverging from hardnosed journalism into schlock - a one-hour program dedicated solely to gardening was considered to be a low point. But on the whole, Koppel produced quality programming that earned numerous awards and honors, including 37 Emmy Awards, six George Foster Peabody Awards, 10 duPont-Columbia Awards (the first in 1985), nine Overseas Press Club Awards and two George Polk Awards. He was named best interviewer on radio or television by The Washington Journalism Review in 1987. Then in 1994, he was named a Chevalier de l'Ordes des Arts et des Lettres from the Republic of France. In 2003, Koppel returned to foreign reporting when he was embedded with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division during its march into Baghdad during the first phase of the Iraq War. In 2005, Koppel stepped down from "Nightline," giving his final broadcast on November 22. But his days in media were not numbered - he was named managing editor of the Discovery Channel, where he hosted news programs covering global events; he began writing an Op-ed column for the New York Times; and he began providing radio commentaries on NPR programs, including All Things Considered and Morning Addition.