Present via videotaped greetings at the party were a few of the show's former guests. Former president Bill Clinton recalled walking across a bridge in Prague with Koppel in 1994 and wondering what the post-Cold War world would be like. "I can't wait to see what your second act will be," he said to Koppel. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was seen in a separate clip, as were Bishop Desmond Tutu ("You have become a legend in your lifetime") and Koppel's longtime friend Henry Kissinger ("You overcame my efforts to ruin your career").
For laughs, actor Henry Winkler appeared and told Koppel, "You were so good on 'Cheers,' " pretending to confuse the anchor with Ted Danson. Koppel also was presented with a statue of Donald Duck, because that is the standard gift from the Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, to employees with 40 years of service.
"Now," Koppel said, "my life is complete."
Koppel has for years chided this critic for having panned the premiere of "Nightline" -- on March 24, 1980 -- calling it "at best a great leap sideways and at worst a pratfall backwards for television news." When it began, the show seemed to be mainly a staging ground for confrontations between opposing sides of a given issue. The next day, Koppel phoned the writer and, in a firm but friendly way, suggested it was unfair to review a nightly news program after one edition. The critic promised to revisit it at a future date.
Another review ran 10 months later. The critic raved that Koppel had emerged as a first-rate interviewer, not just a referee, and hailed "Nightline" as all but a godsend. Koppel himself likes to tell the story about the critical flip-flop. ...
By and large, the relationship between the critic and the anchor was friendly, even though Koppel's first words upon hearing the writer's voice at the other end of the line were almost always, "Shales, you sleazy bastard."
We met the man in 1987 at the Radio-Television News Directors Association national awards, in Orlando. A story for KSMU won the national investigative award for radio that year; Koppel was the keynote speaker. We had just departed KSMU to start work at the News-Leader.
As we shook hands he offered congratulations on the award, then leaned in for the dig: "You're leaving broadcasting for print? You traitor."
Not as good as "sleazy bastard," but we still treasure the memory.