Ted Koppel is making a television special for aliens from outer space. Well, sort of.
In an interview in which he invites American viewers to eavesdrop on the show (``The Koppel Report: News From Earth,'' ABC, Monday, 10-11 p.m.), he admits it is really aimed at today's television audiences on Earth. But he uses the alien device to attract the attention of earthbound news buffs by supposedly keying it ``to an audience we cannot see, cannot really imagine, and have no idea whether or not it really exists. That is, an alien intelligence out in space, 100,000 light-years from now.''
Why is his new production company doing the show this way?
He chuckles. ``Honestly, in part the device is intended to differentiate between the kind of newscasts we do on a daily basis that are designed for quick updates on what is happening today and a different kind of newscast designed to say what kind of important events are happening on Earth in 1988 that will have a continuing effect on our universe.''
But isn't that the kind of newscast we would all like to see every night on American TV?
``In a sense, yes,'' Koppel says. ``That's why I call it a device. If I had come out and admitted that we are producing a newscast which features the things you really ought to be focusing attention on, that would sound sort of preachy and boring and something you would turn off, if you ever turned it on. So I am unashamedly admitting that we are using a device which says, `All right, let's pretend we are doing this for another generation; let's pretend we are doing it for an alien intelligence in space.'
``In fact, TV signals do travel endlessly in space at the speed of light, and it is theoretically possible that somebody might be able to interpret the signal and decode it eons from now.''
Koppel says he doesn't believe he could explain our world today to aliens in the future by featuring what our newscasts focus on now. ``Jim and Tami Bakker, Ollie North, the 1988 presidential campaign, have very little lasting impact beyond our immediate time; so we don't feature them. But there are events going on now on Earth which will have a lasting impact - the environment, racism, the way we treat our homeless and refugees, the possibility of a nuclear war or how we hold back from the brink.''
That's why Koppel, who hosts and produces the show, has included on camera:
Richard M. Nixon on arms control and disarmament.
Jean-Michel Cousteau on the environment.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu on racism.
Surgeon General C.Everett Koop on AIDS.
Rev. Billy Graham on faith in God.
Carl Sagan on the universe.
Jean-Pierre Hocke, the UN high commissioner for refugees, on international homelessness.
Jane Goodall on endangered species.
Steven Jobs, founder of Apple Computer, on computer technology.
Dame Nita Barrow, Barbados's UN representative, on the third world.
Stevie Wonder on the universal language of music.
Koppel allows that the interviews, now being edited, offer no breathtaking revelations. ``But when you look at the whole program I hope you will say to yourself, `We really are that way, aren't we?' We focus so much more on what differentiates us from one another than what binds us together. If we could look down from another perspective, we would see how much alike we are.''
When asked what an alien viewer's first impression of us might be, Koppel says, ``That we are a very shortsighted species in almost everything we do. Yes, there are kind and good and caring people around, but as a species we argue and fight about everything, while tragedies keep occurring. In 1988 there were 34 ongoing wars on this planet and 40,000 people, most of them children, dying of starvation every day.''
``Nightline'' host Koppel doesn't expect his special to change the world. ``I would be happy if some people watch this program and at the end can say honestly, `There's a lot of truth in this.'''
Koppel hopes the program will be an annual event for his Koppel Communications Inc. ``I just want it to be a refreshing reminder that we are all occupants of the same place, and what we do here in this corner of the planet cannot help but have an impact on the other side of the earth. Ultimately our fate as a species depends upon our capacity to see ourselves as co-voyagers on the same planet.''