Ted Koppel, David Letterman -- I can't decide

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If David Letterman takes over for Ted Koppel, it'll establish a trend.

Well, a trend of two, anyway.

First Dennis Miller, a comedian, takes a spot on Monday Night Football previously occupied by a serious sports journalist.

Now, David Letterman, a comedian, may take over a spot in the middle of the night occupied by a serious journalist.

What's next? Happy talk?

I find it rather amusing that television journalists are sputtering and fuming over how someone like Letterman -- a joker, a lightweight, a sarcastic kind of guy, for crying out loud -- might actually replace Koppel.

This is the end of TV journalism as we know it.

For at least the fourth time.

There was the passing of Edward R. Murrow. Then Walter Cronkite. Then Ted Knight. Now Ted Koppel.

I hate to break it to the talking heads on television, but ever since they decided to break down the barriers between news and entertainment, nobody has really cared.

Actually, I'm not sure many people ever cared.

I'll be watching the local news at my mom's house in Illinois and be aghast at the level of journalism displayed.

"Why do you watch this station?" I ask her.

"Because I like that guy," she responds, pointing the remote in the general direction of the news anchor.

"Good enough for me," I say.

What's the difference between watching national election returns on the networks or watching them on Comedy Central? At least on Comedy Central, they're trying to be funny.

I know what it is, though. People get comfortable with the newspeople they watch every night. "The Team You Know and Trust" and all that.

So if they wanted to watch David Letterman, they would watch David Letterman. If they are used to tuning in Ted Koppel, setting the sleep timer and dozing off, then they don't want to be woken up by some noisy comedian.

On the other hand, consider this.

A judge in New York has sentenced a man not to watch television for 10 months after convicting him of credit-card theft.

The judge said he was trying to "create a condition of silent introspection that I considered necessary to induce the defendant to change his behavior, to adhere to the right and to eschew wrong.

The man, Edward Bello, 30, must also stay at home except to go to work, the grocery store, church, school or the doctor.

His attorney has appealed, arguing the ban on TV watching violates Bello's his First Amendment rights.

Fortunately, while the case is on appeal, Bello can watch any of the seven televisions he has in his home.

I realize many people will consider a TV ban to be cruel and unusual punishment, but wouldn't it have been far worse to sentence Bello only to watch certain shows?

Ted Koppel, for example.

He could be required to file a daily report on the contents of "Nightline" with the judge, to prove he actually stayed awake through the whole thing.

Recent reports would have included:

-- The war in the Congo.

-- The war in the Middle East.

-- The war in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, perhaps Mr. Bello is a big fan of "Nightline" and, so, his punishment would be to watch "The Late Show with David Letterman."

His reports to the judge would on such topics as:

-- Bruce Willis in a wig.

-- Jack Black making a guest appearance with the Foo Fighters.

-- The Top 10 signs your neighbor is hiding Mullah Omar.

See what I mean? What's the big difference?

Ironically, "Nightline" has better ratings than "Letterman." So the real difference is that old people (people my age) tend to watch "Nightline," while younger people (people five years younger than me) tend to watch "Letterman."

Everybody is trying to attract a younger audience. I figure that's why I feel sometimes like nostalgia is gaining on me.

In the 1980s, there was nostalgia for the '50s. In the 1990s, the nostalgia had moved up to the 1970s. Now, there's nostalgia for the good ol' days before Sept. 11, 2001.

Frankly, I can't wait for the day I'm nostalgic about Ted Koppel and David Letterman.

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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