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Koppel's final ‘Nightline’ guest: Mitch Albom

Nov. 22 show skips retrospective in favor of focus on Morrie Schwartz
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

For his last “Nightline” on Nov. 22, ABC’s Ted Koppel won’t take a comprehensive look back at his career, but will instead feature an interview with “Tuesdays With Morrie” author Mitch Albom talking about one of Koppel’s favorite interview subjects, Morrie Schwartz.

“Nightline” executive producer Tom Bettag said Friday that there wouldn’t be a collection of Koppel’s “greatest hits” during that last show. Instead, it will be an interview with Albom interspersed with clips from interviews Koppel did with the college professor in 1995, when Schwartz was dying of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“It’s Ted and Mitch talking about what Morrie taught them and intercut with the best of Morrie,” Bettag said. The interview was done several months ago; it’s still not clear how long Koppel’s final “Nightline” will last.

“We can have more than a half-hour. I’m not sure we’ll take it. What we want to do is do it right,” Bettag said. “It’s not the length, it’s nailing it just right.”

It was Koppel’s conversations with Schwartz that led Albom, a sportswriter and Detroit Free Press columnist, into getting back in touch with his mentor, who taught history at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., when Albom attended. That reconnection -- and Schwartz’s lessons about life and grace in the face of death -- led to the 1997 best-seller and later an ABC movie.

Bettag said that some of Koppel’s favorite interviews had always been his shows with Schwartz, which “Nightline” aired in three separate installments in March, May and October 1995. Schwartz died Nov. 4, 1995.

Bettag and Koppel were adamant about not having a retrospective of his years on the show, where his interview subjects have ranged from Henry Kissinger, Desmond Tutu and Kermit the Frog to people dying of AIDS, soldiers in the war in Iraq and the people in the path of Hurricane Katrina.

“The notion of Ted Koppel coming on and saying, ‘Here’s my greatest hits,’ doesn’t feel right,” Bettag said. “This is a retrospective. It’s not talking about Ted, it’s talking about someone who Ted admires.”