As expected, the changed time slot in January to make way for Jimmy Kimmel sharply cut the “Nightline” live audience as well as hurt morale. The show was averaging 3.9 million viewers each weeknight in its 11:35 p.m. time slot, and has been averaging 1.6 million viewers since.
In what might be galling or affirming to the news people, depending on their point of view, Kimmel isn’t doing as well as “Nightline” did.
Kimmel’s show averages 2.5 million people in its new time slot, Nielsen said. A more fair comparison is with the first half-hour of Kimmel — “Nightline” is a 30-minute show — but the 2.9 million average is still below what “Nightline” achieved in the earlier time slot.
“We believed that as long as we were winning, and under budget, we were safe,” Weir said. “So everyone learned to shoot (pictures) and edit, and our little band of true believers spilled blood, sweat and tears to win our slot and still tell as many meaningful stories as we could. But on a broadcast network, even runner-up comedy makes more money than first-place news.”
Weir said he understands that top ABC news executives Ben Sherwood and James Goldston fought hard to keep “Nightline” from being canceled altogether, “so we’ll keep grinding with everything we have. It sounds corny, but everyone here believes that a real democracy depends on real journalism and the ‘Nightline’ legacy is a precious thing worth fighting for.”
Forced to deal with the new situation, “Nightline” is adjusting its approach, Condon said. While the program devotes episodes to big, breaking stories like killer Oklahoma tornadoes or the Connecticut school shooting, it is otherwise cutting down on reporting day-to-day news stories.
Instead, “Nightline” has put more resources into enterprise pieces, the kind of stories that can more easily live outside of the context of the program itself, she said. Full episodes of the show are posted online; ABC didn’t have an immediate count of how many people watch “Nightline” segments this way or whether they watch later on DVRs.