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Surf Report

No one’s sure what Nightline will look like once Ted Koppel’s gone and ABC has to decide whether it wants news or something younger and edgier in that time slot. But in a recent younger and edgier shift on the nights Koppel is away (often featuring a younger and edgier Jake Tapper), we’ve gotten a look at Nightline’s possible future, one with multiple topics per broadcast, a format that too often gives the show the air of a World News Tonight addendum instead of the more in-depth mantra with which Nightline made its name. Still, if last week is any indication, Nightline in any form would be welcome. The venerable late-night program started off the week with Koppel paying tribute to Peter Jennings — the anchor’s good looks were a gently ribbing theme — and corralling a Beirut-stationed Dan Rather and retired Tom Brokaw for fond, sharp remembrances. On Wednesday, Koppel tweaked the standard left-said/right-said format by moderating two conservatives at loggerheads on the teaching of “intelligent design” alongside evolution: ideologue Cal Thomas sparring with science advocate George Will. And Thursday the show highlighted the little-known story of a 1950s all-black South Carolina Little League team denied a rightful chance to play for a championship. Even on the non-Koppel, multi-storied nights, the range of subjects merited focus, from the Army’s quiet laxity on enforcing the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, now that recruitment is down, to a glimpse at how Jonesboro, Arkansas, residents are handling the release of one of the killers — then only 13 — who started the 1998 middle school massacre. In an age where CNN, Fox and MSNBC seem more concerned with the personalities who fill the screen rather than the stories they’re supposed to be bringing us, Nightline still feels like an oasis of sensitive and intelligent reportage and discussion.


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