Ted Koppel Ready to “Let Loose” on the BBC

By Chris Ariens Comment

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Koppel_7.9.jpgScratch Ted Koppel from the list of possible “Meet the Press” successors to Tim Russert (R.I.P.)

“That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” says Koppel. “They need to find somebody younger than Tim, not older than Tim. He was 58. I’m 68. I just don’t think it’s realistic.

“If I were to do something like that, it could only be for a relatively short period. I don’t think that would suit either NBC or me.”

It’s not like Koppel needs the work. In addition to his jobs at Discovery and NPR, he joined BBC America yesterday as a contributing analyst.

It’s a handshake deal, says Rome Hartman, executive producer of “BBC World News America.” Koppel is expected to appear live at 7 and 10 each night of the party conventions in Denver and Minneapolis. After that, about once a month, he says.

Koppel will be at the conventions reporting for an hour-long Discovery documentary. Should there be a conflict, Discovery, his primary employer, gets first dibs, he says.

Koppel and national conventions haven’t always been on speaking terms. In San Diego in 1996, he and his ABC crew stomped out of the G.O.P. gathering because “there’s no news here.”

Hartman, working the convention for CBS at the time, cheered.

“The networks had complained for years that these are stage shows,” he says. “Ted finally had the guts to say, ‘I don’t want to be part of it.'”

Twelve years later, Koppel has no regrets.

“I think I was absolutely right on. Everything that happened since then confirmed it. These conventions could be the first in years where anything real happens.”

Having spent his first 12 years in England, Koppel was a BBC fan “before I ever heard of ABC, CBS or NBC. It tickles me that now, as a naturalized U.S. citizen and American journalist of almost 50 years standing, I’m completing the circle.”

With hundreds of correspondents around the world, the BBC has the kind of foreign coverage that American networks cut out long ago.

“It’s really the only broadcast organization left, with the exception of NPR, that still does what I did as a young reporter,” Koppel says. “The days of the foreign correspondent, as I knew them 30 or 40 years ago, are over.”

For Koppel, one of the BBC perks is being able to “vent” his views with “BBC World News America” anchor Matt Frei.

On “Nightline,” “you never knew what my opinions were, nor should you have. My venting gland has shriveled over the years. I spent so long keeping my opinions to myself, it’s kind of nice to be able to let loose.”

It doesn’t get much looser than this: When Koppel and Frei don’t want Hartman to know what they’re talking about, they converse in German, Koppel says. He and Frei are both fluent.