Nightline will reprise its reading of the honor roll of American Servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, ABC said Tuesday, combining them into one extended Memorial Day telecast May 30.
The number of dead number has grown by over 900 since the 843 names anchor Ted Koppel read April 30, 2004 (721 in Iraq) and May 26 (122 in Afghanistan). Koppel will read off the names of those who have since last year's accounting.
The April 30 2004 war dead episode last year was the center of some controversy when Sinclair Broadcast Group accused Nightline and Koppel, of "politicizing" the war dead and reading their names on the air as a form of protest to the war."
Sinclair pre-empted the telecast on its seven ABC affiliates. ABC and Nightline denied the charges, saying the episode was designed as a tribute to those who lost their lives.
Sinclair aired the May 26 episode of Afghanistan dead, saying the difference was that it was tied to Memorial Day weekend.
Sinclair spokesman Barry Faber said the company had no problem with the broadcast, which he called appropriate for Memorial Day.The Memorial Day date for the "Fallen" broadcast is a shift from last year. In an interview with CNN the day of the 2004 broadcast, Koppel explained the April 30 date this way:
"Initially, we talked about doing it on Memorial Day, and then decided precisely because it was Memorial Day, it would get lost in all the background music of a national holiday. You know, between the Indianapolis 500 and the keg parties and the picnics, and it would have more impact if we did it on another day."
Nightline Executive Producer Tom Bettag told B&C the shift to Memorial Day follows the controversy of last year and the spotlight it threw on the broadcast, which insured that this year's show would not get overlooked amid the Memorial Day festivities.
"There was the risk last year that we would do it and nobody would know it happened," says Bettag, who adds that "we truly thought this would be the lowest-rated thing in the world." The Sinclair response insured that was not the case..
"We decided that this year, we would run it on Memorial Day and there would be no shortage of attention."