The venerable late-night news show, perhaps the last weekday word in the daily broadcast news cycle, is taking a step into streaming video, with a weekly newsmagazine counterpart that aims to burnish new storytelling tactics for subscribers to Hulu. The first half-hour broadcast of “Impact x Nightline” debuts Thursday, Oct. 6.
The new series, produced by the same ABC News team that makes daily “Nightline,” will home in on streaming viewers and the things that will keep them interested, says Eman Varoqua, the program’s executive producer. If you’re looking to see an ABC News anchor sitting behind a desk, you won’t see it here, she vows: “You’ll see them on the ground, in the field, really conducting the interviews, and taking you to the heart of the story,” she says. “It’s very much a ‘journey’ style of reporting, and they will be right there, taking the viewers through the story and all its complexities.”
Part of the appeal of “Nightline” and other TV-news mainstays like it is its durability. Viewers can pretty much be certain of the format when they tune in to the show, or “Today” or “60 Minutes.” But the big broadcast networks are finding they must tweak their programs — sometimes in radical ways — if they want to get younger, tech-savvy audiences to binge-watch them. NBC’s “Today” is the archetypal morning program, for example, but its broadband version curates dozens of clips of the show while offering new quick takes that provide a look at individual anchors and their interests. ABC, NBC and CBS all offer evening-news counterparts for the streaming set that tend to last longer than 30 minutes and try to offer more depth than the broadcast anchor who is tied to a format that demands concision.
“We know that a linear TV viewer is watching TV in the moment,” says Justin Dial, vice president of streaming content for ABC News, usually a time slot that has been picked by the networks, not the viewer. “We know that streaming viewers are watching it on their time,” and already know the news of the day and week, he says. “We have to give them the why and the where and the how and the what, and the literal impact of what the story means to their lives and communities.”
The streaming newsmagazine will include reports from ABC News’ congressional correspondent Rachel Scott, multi-platform reporter Ashan Singh, correspondent Maggie Rulli and others.
Newsmagazines have been tougher to launch in recent years. Most of the mainstays of the format — NBC’s “Dateline,” CBS’ “48 Hours” and ABC’s “20/20” — focus largely on true-crime stories and murder mysteries. TV networks have tried to launch new ones over the years, particularly NBC, which has tried “Rock Center,” “On Assignment” and “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly.” But the feat has proven challenging for streaming venues as well. CBS News launched a version of “60 Minutes” that streamed on Paramount+ and the now-defunct Quibi video service, and even went so far as to hire a new group of correspondents. But the program ultimately didn’t gain traction.
If any show has demonstrated an ability to change, it’s “Nightline.” Launched in 1980 under anchor Ted Koppel, producer Tom Bettag and legendary TV executive Roone Arledge, the show each night probed a topic of high interest or presented an in-depth interview with a newsmaker, at just about the time other networks were pivoting to comedic late-night fare. The program got its start as a nightly update on the Iran hostage crisis, and then broadened its aperture as the years went by. But its staff has always had to move quickly, turning around an in-depth look at the news on a tight deadline.
In recent years, “Nightline” has relied on multiple anchors, rather than one person night after night. And it has had to function in different time slots. In 2013, it was moved from a start time at 11:35 p.m. to an hour later, swapping slots with “Jimmy Kimmel Live. In 2020, “Nightline” returned to its original slot for several weeks to give viewers a regular update on the coronavirus pandemic, pre-empting its late-night colleague.
ABC News has moved more decisively into streaming in recent weeks with the creation of ABC News Studios. The unit recently announced a new Hulu series centered around George Stephanopoulos as he works to advise “embed” reporters covering the 2022 midterm elections.
But the Disney news unit has long experimented with “Nightline” and what it can produce. The “Nightline” team was instrumental in helping to create a special about the U.S. exit from Afghanistan for Hulu. In 2018, the program’s staff created a documentary for sister cable outlet Freeform that followed the lives of several students in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“The best thing about ‘Nightline’ is that it has the ability to turn on a dime and morph and change as the news evolves and changes, and the story changes,” says Dial.
Other ABC News programs have transformed themselves for modern viewers. Executives have reworked “20/20” so that it presents itself as a two-hour true-crime mystery for Hulu, where subscribers were eager to watch that sort of storytelling.
The first episode of “Impact x Nightline” will focus on abortion, with Scott and a team spreading out across the U.S. to tell stories about women, activists and even TikTok creators from both sides of the issue. Other programs in the series will examine what really happens to a town after a tragic school shooting and the business of American nostalgia. Deep-dive celebrity interviews are also expected.
The series’ title, says Dial, reflects what its staff hopes to achieve: “We want to have an impact on the viewers. Maybe they come away from with something they didn’t know, or maybe they have thoughts formed by what they see.”
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