Ted Koppel, Discovery parting ways

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Former ABC News “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel, who joined Discovery Channel in January 2006 as managing editor, is parting ways with Discovery Communications.

Koppel and Discovery agreed to terminate his documentary group’s three-year contract about six months ahead of the May 2009 end date.

Koppel said that executive producer Tom Bettag and the eight other members of the staff who had left “Nightline” to join him at Discovery are receiving a “generous settlement” and won’t be under immediate pressure to find new jobs.

Koppel’s departure from Discovery had been long rumored, as the deal was left over from former president Billy Campbell’s tenure at the channel.

Discovery, under CEO David Zaslav and Discovery Networks chief John Ford, has taken a new direction. The critically acclaimed documentaries that Koppel and his team made were not in line with that direction.

Koppel said Tuesday afternoon that it became apparent shortly after the new team came aboard that the revamped Discovery would not be news-oriented.

“It was like oil and water, it didn’t mix particularly well,” Koppel said. “They couldn’t have been nicer and more generous about letting us do what we did. Tom and I never were under any pressure to do anything we didn’t want to do.”

During their time at Discovery, Koppel and his team have produced 15 hours of programing, including a four-hour series on China, documentaries on prisons and Iran and a town-hall meeting about living with cancer that featured his former executive producer, Leroy Sievers, who later passed away.

Koppel said that the China series “ranks with some of the work that I am most proud of over the years. We’ve been able to do some quality work” at Discovery. He said he regrets that his crew won’t be moving as a group again to set up shop at another television outlet.

“That’s the one thing I do regret, that the people, some of whom I’ve worked with for almost 30 years, that they and I are not going to be working under the same roof together,” Koppel said.

Koppel plans to continue to provide commentaries for National Public Radio and to work for BBC World News from Washington. He’s looking forward to the time off that his lightened schedule will provide.

“What my wife has never had, in 45 years of marriage, is the opportunity to take several weeks of vacation and not worry about what’s coming next. The next few months are hers and mine together, and I’ll see what comes over the transom later.”

What won’t be coming over the transom is any role on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” which is rumored to be close to making a decision on a permanent moderator.

Koppel said that he’s not in the mix, either as a moderator or as a panelist.

“They haven’t angled for me,” he said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter