Courtesy of ABC News
When “Nightline” viewers tune in to the program later this evening, they are likely to see something they won’t expect: the show will have a new announcer, new topics, and even a new title.
Tonight’s broadcast will mark the start of a month-long “takeover” of the late-night news program by “Turning Point,” an ABC News project that will explore the reckoning America is currently facing on racial issues. The effort won’t be limited to “Nightline.” ABC News intends to feature “Turning Point” segments on “Good Morning America,” “World News Tonight,” “The View,” “20/20” and “This Week,” as well as on its digital, streaming and audio outlets.
“It was important for us to seize this as an opportunity, to plant a flag and to lay down a marker that says this is one of the most important issues of our time and one of the most important issues confronting America today,” says Marie Nelson, senior vice president of integrated content strategy for ABC News, in an interview. “And that deserves a deeper dive.”
Juju Chang and Byron Pitts will continue to anchor “Nightline,” but the show will over the next several weeks have the look and feel of a documentary program, says Steve Baker, the series’ executive producer, in an interview. Tonight’s broadcast will feature vignettes from young filmmakers and in days to come will include a three-part examination of the issue of reparations to descendants of people who were enslaved, Native Americans and Mexican Americans. “It feels very different from the kind of storytelling we traditionally do for ‘Nightline,’” Baker says. “This one is not going to have any anchor narration.”
Many of ABC News’ best-known on-air personnel will deliver stories devoted to the effort, including Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, Michael Strahan, George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Linsey Davis, Amy Robach, John Quiñones, Pierre Thomas, Deborah Roberts, Steve Osunsami, Martha Raddatz, Dan Harris, Brad Mielke, Cheri Preston, Elwyn Lopez, and Alex Presha and more. On “The View,” the co-hosts will discuss the issue along with guest Ana Navarro.
A project such as this would typically take months to assemble, but ABC News staffers have been working on this for just the past three weeks, explains Nelson. “It was one of those things where we sat down and had some really honest conversations about what we wanted to accomplish and then realized that the time to do it was now,” the executive says.
Executives have taken note of viewership for recent ABC News specials broadcast in June that looked at Juneteenth and examined recent protests after the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. The programs have attracted both diverse and non-diverse audiences, says Nelson. “I think we are at this place where our audience is demanding this type of storytelling,” she says.
The “Turning Point” concept has a history at the Walt Disney-owned news operation. ABC News aired an hour-long documentary program under that title between 1994 and 1999 and its correspondents included Sawyer, Forrest Sawyer, Meredith Vieira, Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters.
Among the projects being presented under the initiative in 2020 are Chang’s look at a man who had lived in American from a very young age and was deported to Mexico; Pitts’ spotlight on a Christian sleepaway camp in Kentucky that tries to foster better relations between young people from a wide range of backgrounds; and Pierre Thomas’ investigation with ABC-owned stations into traffic stop policing data. Sawyer will revisit a report she did that looked at how men of different races were treated by society, and update with how the people she met then are faring now.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, ABC News has pivoted quickly by making major changes to its programming. The news division started a hard-news hour in the early afternoon, taking over real estate that had been devoted to a lighter talk show led by Strahan, Sara Haines and Keke Palmer. Meanwhile, “Nightline” for a time was placed back in the earlier time slot it inhabited when it was anchored by Ted Koppel, a nod to the seriousness of the news facing the nation. In recent weeks, it has been featured just after midnight, appearing after a half hour of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
The show is set to return to its more typical 12:35 a.m. time slot later in September, says Baker, but will continue to take part in “Turning Point” through the end of the month. “The news space can be so cluttered right now. There are so many competing headlines,” he notes. “It felt like the right time to pick one big issue that the country is grappling with.”
Variety's Brian Steinberg contributed to this post.