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Ted Koppel leaving ABC
Network says anchor to leave at end of his contract Dec. 4; no word on future of 'Nightline.'
March 31, 2005: 12:51 PM EST
Ted Koppel, who has anchored ABC News'
Ted Koppel, who has anchored ABC News' "Nightline" since the show debuted in 1980, will leave the network in December.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Ted Koppel is leaving ABC and the "Nightline" show he has hosted since it started in 1980 -- making him the third high-profile news anchor to leave a broadcast network in the last year.

The network announced Thursday that Koppel, a 42-year veteran of ABC News, would leave when his current contract expires Dec. 4. His long-time executive producer, Tom Bettag, also will be leaving ABC, the network said in a statement.

"Ted and I have discussed a number of options under which he might have remained at 'Nightline' or in some other capacity at ABC News, but Ted believes this is the right time for him to leave," ABC News President David Westin said in an e-mail announcement to staff that was posted on the ABC Web site.

There was no immediate announcement from the Walt Disney Co.-owned network on plans for "Nightline." The network considered dropping or bumping the show in March 2002 when it unsuccessfully tried to sign CBS late night host David Letterman.

Westin's e-mail to staff also said, "By making this announcement well in advance, Ted and Tom have provided us with the time we need to segue to the next chapter in the illustrious history of 'Nightline.'"

Koppel's late-night news broadcast started as part of a nightly special report on the Iranian hostage crisis in November 1979 -- dubbed "America Held Hostage" -- after the U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized by Iranian students. There were 52 Americans held hostage for more than a year. The show was renamed "Nightline" in March 1980.

But its ratings have sagged over the years.

"Nightline" has drawn an average of 3.7 million viewers a night so far this television season -- or about 2.8 percent of U.S. homes and 7 percent of those watching television at that hour. That's down more than 40 percent from the viewership it had 10 years ago, when there was less competition from cable networks.

"Nightline" viewership also is about 20 percent less than the number of people watching Letterman's "Late Show" on CBS and about 37 percent fewer than watching NBC's "Tonight Show." Both those competitors are hour-long programing, while ABC has seen a sharp fall-off in viewers between "Nightline" and its entertainment talk show "Jimmy Kimmel Live" that follows.

Koppel, a native of Lancashire, England, moved to the United States with his parents when he was 13. He joined ABC News as a 23-year-old correspondent in 1963, when the network's evening news broadcast was a distant third to competitors at CBS and NBC.

Long-time NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw retired in December, and CBS News Anchor Dan Rather gave up his anchor post in March, following a controversy involving a 2004 CBS News report based on forged documents related to President Bush's military service. Rather is still employed by CBS.

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