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Ted Koppel to ABC's "This Week"? NBC's Jay Leno show kaput?

Ted Koppel and Jay Leno suddenly became the sexiest things in TV -- I know! -- with reports one may be in, the other may be out.

That Koppel might be replacing George Stephanopoulos as anchor of ABC News's Sunday Beltway show "This Week" is not exactly breaking news. His name has been on the list of contenders for a while -- along with usual suspects like Gwen Ifill as well as ABC News correspondents Jake Tapper and Terry Moran who have been the topic of test-run sightings over the past few weeks.

But when the Web site Politico reported early Thursday that ABC News had made a $1 million offer to Koppel to host the show three Sundays a month, the division's president David Westin went on the warpath with an email in which he told Politico: "We are in the middle of the process, and I will not comment on the specifics of whom we are and whom we are not talking to. I'm considering a number of alternatives. I will pull back the veil to the limited degree of telling you -- for the benefit of your readers -- that just about every specific that you have is false."

The Sunday Beltway show ratings race was thrown wide open in June of 2008 with the shocking death of Tim Russert, who for 16 years had an iron grip on the daypart's ratings crown, as host of NBC's "Meet the Press."

While "Meet the Press," now hosted by David Gregory, is still in the lead, ABC's show has been chipping away at the gap, and Koppel would not only bring statesmanship to "This Week" he presumably would bring a built-in audience, having created ABC's latenight news franchise "Nightline" in 1980 and anchored it for more than 20 years.

(Since leaving "Nightline" Koppel joined Silver Spring-based Discovery Channel in 2006 as managing editor, making documentaries for the network. But the two parties agreed to part ways in November of 2008.)

Meanwhile, the long-smoldering report that NBC TV stations aren't happy with the leadin numbers their evening newscasts are being handed by Jay Leno's 10 p.m. comedy show got doused with lighter fluid by a Web report that NBC suits were mulling whether to end Leno's show at the end of the TV season (duh), or maybe even not return from a planned hiatus to make room for NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics which will conclude late next month.

Nothing much else new in the report on FTVLive -- the "F" stands for [expletive] -- or in an interview the web site's founder Scott Jones did with a Los Angeles radio station, in which he announced that NBC beancounters at the highest levels are crunching Leno's numbers to determine his effect on the NBC stations actually owned by NBC (some NBC stations are only "affiliated" with the network, others including Washington's WRC, are owned by NBC). Which of course, you already knew unless you've been living under a flat rock the past several weeks.
On the other hand, NBC will face the press at Winter TV Press Tour 2010 on Sunday and the web site's report has maybe a 50/50 chance of being accurate and we're guessing it's definitely increased traffic to his subscription-based site, so someone's making some dough off this story.

"Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today," NBC said Thursday in response to the report.

"As we have said all along, Jay's show has performed exactly as we anticipated on the network. It has, however, presented some issues for our affiliates. Both Jay and the show are committed to working closely with them to find ways to improve the performance," NBC continued.

Don't expect NBC to confirm any elements of the discussions about Leno's future during its press tour appearance Sunday. The network can't give an end date to his show. It would have to just yank it off the air. Otherwise they'd be taking a guy who has made NBC hundreds of millions of dollars and letting him flap in the floor like a dying fish for two or three months. And, among those with whom we spoke we could not find anyone who believed even NBC was capable of that.

No word in the Web story re what shows NBC would use to fill the gaping five-hours of holes on its primetime slate should Leno's show never return from going dark during the Winter Games. The network's not exactly flush with inventory right now.

On the other hand, there's always "Dateline."

Meanwhile, as noted in the news report, NBC is developing 18 pilots for next season, though, if Leno's show survives, the network only would have about 3-4 hours of primetime to fill, owing to other commiments for next season -- "Biggest Loser" will continue to gobble up at least two hours a week, Sunday football will own that night in the fourth quarter, Saturday sure to return "NBC Rerun Theatre," and so on.

And, of course, "developing" 18 pilots does not mean the network is going to actually greenlight 18 pilots.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  January 7, 2010; 2:08 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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Koppel would be terrific here and a voice too long not heard from. We sorely need an experienced JOURNALIST in this spot. Moran is credible;Tapper is not. IF ABC wishes to complete with any seriousness at all going forward, Koppel should be the choice, without question.

We need more JOURNALIST and fewer Bloggers and tabloid reporters, please.

Posted by: ljines1 | January 7, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

It would be great to see ABC opt in favor of Ted Koppel. The contrast between Koppel and David Gregory would be significant - Gregory asks questions for the sake of asking questions and with no idea of why an issue is relevant to people, while the old-school guys like Koppel and Russert know how to get to the point.

Posted by: johnc_80 | January 7, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

You need to catch up. Multiple sites are reporting that Leno's 10 pm show will go on hiatus for the Olympics and then return back in his old 11:30 pm slot. The question remaining to be answered, the reports say, is whether Leno's 11:30 pm show will be only 30 minutes and followed by Conan, or whether Leno will go a whole hour and Conan will be gone altogether.

Posted by: JoeDalhart | January 7, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

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