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Ted Koppel leaves the Discovery Channel

Ted Koppel, who picked the Discovery Channel over nine other networks when he left ABC to make Koppel documentaries, is leaving the company. Koppel and Discover said Tuesday morning that they're breaking off their three-year deal six months early. Their announcement was friendly but definitely suggested the relationship foundered over the same thing that breaks up a lot of marriages: money.

"There has been significant change in senior management at Discovery," Koppel said. "Producing our kind of news-related programs is an expensive proposition. It has long been clear that neither of us is interested in an extension of the current contract."

Discovery, for its part, suggested journalism hasn't been as rewarding as it hoped. The company said it plans to focus on "non-news content that has a longer shelf life and appeals to audiences around the world." Translation: To make stuff profitable, we've got to be able to rerun it for years, not to mention sell it overseas.

When he signed with Discovery in 2006 -- bringing along a team of nine producers from ABC -- Koppel said he planned to make six to 10 documentaries a year. Instead, he's produced only seven in two and a half years. At the time, he was dismissive of the broadcast networks (they were getting out of the documentary business, he said), the cable news networks (all wrapped up in "a desperate race to be first with the obvious, to pay attention to what is recent rather than what is important") and even HBO, with whom he had nearly signed a deal ("essentially an entertainment company and we would have been, I suspect, something of an appendage there.")

That doesn't seem to leave many possibilities for Koppel's next venue. One obvious possibility: Mark Cuban's HDNet, which already employs another old network news warhorse, Dan Rather. Cuban by his own description already has more money than he could use in about 10 lifetimes and doesn't mind spending some of it on projects that others may find quixotic. (Go ahead, make a Dallas Mavericks joke -- you know you want to.) Whether or not it's HDNet, I'm certain the 68-year-old Koppel is working on a deal with somebody. He didn't go to the trouble of dissolving the Discovery deal six months early just so he could retire.


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