It was the fall of 1979, and Iranian militants had seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 53 Americans hostage.
The late Roone Arledge, then president of ABC News, wanted extended network coverage.
“Roone had decided a long time before,” Ted Koppel tells TVNewser, “that any time a big news story [broke], ABC News was going to do a special broadcast at 11:30 at night. And one day, it was his dream that there’d be a story that had such legs to it, that was so enduring, that he would actually be able to seize the time period.”
He did just that. The ‘temporary’ program America Held Hostage: The Iran Crisis launched November 8, 1979 — four days after the Americans were taken. Frank Reynolds was named anchor. Koppel, then ABC’s chief diplomatic correspondent, was a contributing reporter.
A few months later, Koppel took over anchoring duties at Hostage, a program slated to continue as long as the crisis lasted. But as the show gathered a following, it was re-born as Nightline, and has been a part of ABC’s late-night lineup ever since.
Nightline debuted March 24, 1980, with Koppel at the helm — but only, he says, after both Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw declined offers to anchor the new program. Koppel, of course, became synonymous with Nightline, anchoring until his retirement from the program in 2005. Ted Koppel talks with TVNewser thirty years after it all began.
TVNewser: What was the impact of the program during the hostage crisis?
Koppel: Arguably, not the program, but the event — which was clearly magnified by the program — I think the event cost Jimmy Carter the [presidential] election [of 1980]…