Friday, October 30, 2009

Craig Kilborn: Bearded Craiggers turns up in St. Paul

In my ongoing series on Craig Kilborn's whereabouts, here's a new report from a source in Minnesota:

I met Craig Kilborn last night in a restaurant in St. Paul, MN. He looked different but I recognized him even with his beard. I talked with him and his friend he was with about the great job he use to do on TV. I asked if he was going to be coming back anytime soon and he said, "Yes, very soon I'll be back." He seemed genuine about and I am looking forward to his return. I asked him where he was living now and he said L.A. For the people that think he is pompous or full of himself, I'm sure that was part of his "character" on the Late Late Show. This guy was cool, laid-back and extremely friendly. I met the Craiggers and it was awesome.
Kilborn grew up in Hastings, MN, so presumably he was in the area visiting family. Anyone else have a Craiggers sighting to report? You know where to send 'em.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chelsea Handler: Her Playboy cover revealed!

chelsea handler playboyA few months after posing nude for Allure magazine, "Chelsea Lately" star Chelsea Handler is at it again: this time, she's appearing on the cover of newsstand copies of Playboy. (Subscribers will see "Dancing with the Stars'" Joanna Krupa instead.)

Chelsea won't bare all, though. According to the New York Daily News, the mag "features the star covered up by an apron and mini dress while preparing a vodka-soaked Christmas meal with her sidekick Chuy."

The cover was unveiled on last night's "Jay Leno Show." After telling Leno that "my dad is probably going to love it because he thinks I'm very sexual," Handler said she hadn't yet seen the cover shot. Jay told her that he'd gotten a copy from Hugh Hefner.

"I don't want to see it for the first time on here. Honestly, I don't," she protested.

"Nobody cares what you think. You are too used to getting what you want. What you need is a guy to say no," said Leno.

"Oh really, is that what I need? This is a very interesting side of you, Jay. Everybody is finally starting to realize that you are exactly like David Letterman," Handler shot back. "Shame on you!"

Leno unveils a huge reproduction of the cover, and asks Chelsea to duplicate her pose. "I can't do that pose again. We'd need the guy who airbrushed me to come back."

Here's the clip:

Jimmy Kimmel's "Twilight: New Moon" special

ABC has announced that on Nov. 20, Jimmy Kimmel will welcome the three stars of the forthcoming film "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," along with soundtrack performer Death Cab for Cutie.

Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner will make their first interview appearance together on Kimmel's couch on the same day the movie is released.

Death Cab will perform their single from "The Twilight Saga: New Moon's" original motion picture soundtrack, "Meet Me on the Equinox."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

David Letterman: Why I Don't Still Care About His Affair

A commenter on this post asks: "After reading this article, do you remain unconcerned by the revelation of Letterman's affairs?"

First and foremost, one thing I think got lost in the initial tabloid feeding frenzy (remember the New York Post's "Dirty Dave's Harem" headline?) is that Letterman was the victim here. A CBS employee was trying to gouge him for $2 million. As much as Joe Halderman's showboating lawyer Gerald Shargel would like to make the case all about Dave, the truth is that in the eyes of the law, Letterman committed no crime. In fact, Worldwide Pants' sexual harassment guidelines do "not prohibit sexual liaisons in the office, provided they're not 'unsolicited and unwelcome.'"

By all accounts, Letterman's relationship with Stephanie Birkitt was entirely consensual. None of Dave's other alleged paramours have come forward to accuse him of being a cad or a scoundrel. If it hadn't been for Halderman, it's likely we never would have known about Letterman's affairs.

But what about his wife, Regina Lasko? Isn't he a dog for cheating on her? As far as I'm concerned, that's between the two of them. As I stated previously, Letterman has never held himself up as a poster boy for monogamy. After his first marriage ended in divorce, he resisted making a return trip to the altar for over three decades. That doesn't exactly seem like the behavior of someone who is eager to commit to one woman. Yes, sneaking around on Lasko was a bit sleazy, if indeed that's what happened, but you know what? I still watch "30 Rock" despite the fact that Alec Baldwin called his daughter a "thoughtless little pig" on that leaked voice mail, and I didn't throw out my Roxy Music CDs when lead singer Bryan Ferry dumped his wife of 20 years for a woman half his age.

Having said that, I do believe that Nell Scovell makes some valid points about the difficult work environment that can result when the boss is messing around with his female underlings. Of course, Scovell worked for Letterman during his NBC tenure, when the staff was no doubt much smaller compared to the current Worldwide Pants empire. Judging from the recent New York magazine article, the Letterman of today is a man who has walled himself off from the world, dealing only with a handful of trusted employees. Many of his closest staffers, such as Barbara Gaines and Jude Brennan, are women. I think the fact that they have stayed loyal to Dave for decades speaks for itself.

No other figure has influenced my sense of humor, and in some ways, my very outlook on life, like David Letterman. I feel kind of sorry for the younger generation who never had the opportunity to watch his old "Late Night," when he was practically redefining the talk show genre on a nightly basis. Indeed, I stopped watching "Late Show" regularly when he settled into a more conventional talk show groove; despite the cranky charm he displays during his chats with Paul Shaffer, I can't help but miss the brilliant stunts and innovation of the old days. I hope someday, Letterman takes a page from his mentor Johnny Carson and makes his old shows available for purchase.

But despite my appreciation for Letterman the comedian, I've never had much interest in Letterman the man. Unlike, say, Stephen Colbert or Craig Ferguson, he's not someone I could imagine myself having a cup of tea with. It was probably his refusal to be a jovial gladhander like his former time slot rival Jay Leno that lost him the "Tonight Show" gig he so coveted. For his audience, the only thing that should matter is that one hour a day when Letterman is on TV. If you enjoy watching him, you should keep on doing it, even if he isn't a paragon of morality and good behavior in his personal life; if you don't, well, Conan O'Brien appears to be happily married.

I do agree with Scovell that it would be nice to see more female writers on late night shows. Hiring people other than white males doesn't necessarily have to be a sop to mediocrity or tokenism; look at "The Daily Show," which used to get a lot of criticism for its on-air roster of white men (plus Samantha Bee). The show responded by hiring the extremely funny and talented Wyatt Cenac and Aasif Mandvi, who have both brought a different and hilarious perspective to the broadcast, and made a good thing even better. "Daily" has two female writers and the writers' assistant is also a woman, a sign that they're interested in nurturing female talent. There are plenty of funny women out there, and they should be welcomed into the writing rooms.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jay Leno: Series-low ratings against a rerun

Remember NBC's "52-week strategy" with "The Jay Leno Show," where the program would likely be hammered in the ratings by new dramas on CBS and ABC but would show strength against reruns? As last night's "Leno" guest, Dr. Phil McGraw, might say, "How's that workin' for ya'?"

Not so well, apparently -- the good doctor couldn't help Jay beat a rerun of "CSI: Miami." In fact, Leno could only dredge up a series-low 4.62 million viewers.

Advertising Age's Simon Dumenco takes a page from Jay's former time slot rival in presenting "Top 10 Lessons to Learn from NBC's Failing Leno Strategy." "NBC executives, in marketing Leno's move to prime time, tried to position him as a beloved broadcast institution -- like they were bestowing a comedic gift on America -- as a cover for their entirely cynical cost-cutting," writes Dumenco. "In reality, though, it was clear all along that late-night Leno functioned as a sort of utility: an easy, default pre-bedtime diversion literally not ready for prime time, even after 17 years. NBC used to offer substantive entrees at 10 ('ER,' 'Law & Order'), and figured that viewers could be forced to switch to comfort food. But Leno at 11:35 wasn't ever really even meatloaf; he was more like that stale bag of Funyuns in the back of the cupboard you were willing to settle for because mindless late-night snacking is ... mindless."

David Letterman: A female writer speaks out about "hostile work environment"

Former "Late Night" writer Nell Scovell writes for Vanity Fair about the "hostile work environment" she found during her brief tenure at the show (she "walked away from [her] dream job" after a few months). "I’d seen enough to know that I was not going to thrive professionally in that workplace," says Scovell. "And although there were various reasons for that, sexual politics did play a major part."

Without naming names or digging up decades-old dirt, let’s address the pertinent questions. Did Dave hit on me? No. Did he pay me enough extra attention that it was noted by another writer? Yes. Was I aware of rumors that Dave was having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Was I aware that other high-level male employees were having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Did these female staffers have access to information and wield power disproportionate to their job titles? Yes. Did that create a hostile work environment? Yes. Did I believe these female staffers were benefiting professionally from their personal relationships? Yes. Did that make me feel demeaned? Completely. Did I say anything at the time? Sadly, no.
Dave asked her why she was quitting, but "with [his] rumored mistress within earshot, I balked. Instead, I told him I missed L.A. Dave said, 'You’re welcome back anytime.'" She went on to write for "Coach," "Monk," "NCIS," and many other shows, and she was the creator of the long-running sitcom "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch."

About the dearth of female writers on late night programs ("Late Show," "Jay Leno" and "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" have not a single woman on their writing staffs), "the shows often rely on current (white male) writers to recommend their funny (white male) friends to be future (white male) writers. Targeted outreach to talented bloggers, improv performers, and stand-ups would help widen the field of applicants."

Jon Stewart's Head on Mario Lopez's Body...

...getting fucked by a unicorn dot net. DOT NET!

Jon mentioned this URL as part of his segment on net neutrality on last night's "Daily Show":

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
From Here to Neutrality
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Naturally, I was curious if it actually existed. And here it is:
(It just redirects you to "The Daily Show" home page.)

Turns out some clever joker has registered the .com:

Monday, October 26, 2009

David Letterman: New York magazine reports on his troubles

Was it only last month when New York magazine ran its "Leno Who?" cover, featuring Letterman triumphant? Now comes a much darker piece, "The Devil in David Letterman," written by Robert Kolker. After a slew of hyped-up articles with no new revelations (we're looking at you, Entertainment Weekly), this one actually contains some fresh meat, including numerous interviews with unnamed sources at the show.

Because the host is such a recluse, we learn that he and his many assistants are effectively walled off from the rest of the staff -- "[t]o the rank and file of the show... Dave is almost a nonentity now." And that has led to "a new level of palace intrigue." Says one ex-staffer: “There’s a level of mind games and chess that goes on, starting from the top down. They rule by fear. You don’t want to make Dave mad or so-and-so mad, so you better do a good job. Everyone there is scared of their shadow all the time.”

Some staffers apparently wish Dave had just paid Joe Halderman the $2 million in hush money: “Some people are thinking, ‘Aw, man, I can’t believe Dave did this to us. We were just winning in the ratings, we were really doing good, and he had to come out and make this a pissing match between him and Joe?’” Kolker posits that Halderman thought Letterman's ultra-private personal life meant "he would never allow the revelations about Birkitt to become public. But what Halderman hadn’t counted on was that the other side of Letterman, the self-loathing Letterman, won out. It always does. 'Dave is like, "No one fucks with me. You fuck with me, you die,"' says a source. 'All Dave cares about is his career.'"

One of Kolker's sources believes that Letterman's wife Regina never suspected that Dave and Stephanie were having an affair. Her relationship with Halderman "made her less threatening to Regina. 'Stephanie was someone she trusted,' the source continues. 'I’m sure Dave’s wife felt some comfort because Stephanie lived with her boyfriend that she was clearly over the moon for. I think Regina let down her guard. You have to know Stephanie. She just doesn’t seem like the kind of person who’d be sneaking around with your husband behind your back.'"

The whole story is definitely worth a read for anyone who's been following this case.

Paul Shaffer: Don't miss these two appearances

Paul Shaffer fans, take note. David Letterman's musical director spent the rerun week plugging his new book, We'll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin' Show-biz Saga. He turned up on rival Jimmy Kimmel's talk show last Tuesday, leading Kimmel's band, Cleto and the Cletones, and also chatting with Jimmy. It was such a great episode that they're rerunning it tonight.

For a megadose of Shaffer, check out Adam Carolla's hour-long podcast with the bandleader. Paul talks about his early musical influences, his feud with John Belushi, a hilarious encounter with Britney Spears, his ill-fated 70s sitcom "A Year at the Top," and much more.

One thing Shaffer declines to discuss: David Letterman's recent legal troubles. He told Carolla that he's not allowed to talk about it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Leno Apologists: Who will speak for Jay?

After weeks of Leno-bashing, at least two brave souls have come forward to declare: Stop knocking Jay.'s Rick Ellis and's Dw. Dunphy have both written pro-Leno columns in the past few days. They both sound a little defensive (Ellis: "[A]dmitting a fondness for Jay Leno gets you about the same street cred as arguing that 'Coach' was the funniest TV comedy of the past 30 years"), but it's worth considering their chief points:

1. If Leno wasn't on at 10, there's no guarantee there would actually be something better in that slot. "[W]ithout him, you would get policemen five times a week, or lawyers five times a week, or surgeons five times a week, not a new wrinkle to be had in the lot," writes Dunphy. Ellis suggests that NBC affiliates would love to get their hands on an extra hour of local programming, a la FOX. "[I]f complaints about Leno are the wedge to get the timeslot, then that's what they'll use."

2. Dunphy asserts that "the show still sucks" -- with friends like these, who needs enemies? -- but Ellis says his monologue has been getting better, and appreciates the pieces turned in by Jay's stable of comedians, like Jim Norton's commentaries.

"If you watch 'The Jay Leno Show' with an open mind, you might be surprised at what you see," writes Ellis. So far, no commenters have weighed in to agree or disagree, but Dunphy's article features a slew of angry comments from people who perceived him as bashing NBC's canceled "Southland."

Of course, "Southland," which appears to be headed to cable, could end up having the last laugh. Last week, "Leno" was soundly beaten in the 18-49 ratings by FX's motorcycle drama "Sons of Anarchy."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jay Leno: Is he killing local news?

The Los Angeles Times reports today that NBC affiliates have been suffering lower ratings since "The Jay Leno Show" took over the 10 PM time slot. One example given: WBAL in Baltimore, which has traditionally battled for late news supremacy with WJZ, "has been shellacked in the ratings" this fall.

"Leno's new show averaged about 5.6 million viewers through the first four days of last week, less than half the audience it attracted when it premiered and more than a third less than the audience that NBC drew last season with its longtime schedule of drama shows," writes the Times' Joe Flint. "The network says the declines are in line with expectations and cautions patience as viewers discover the new time slot for the talk show king."

Flint also quotes GE Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin, who claims that "Leno," as well as Conan O'Brien's "Tonight," are "exceeding our ratings estimates... we are happy with the 10 o'clock and late-night performance." Considering that Conan's ratings in the coveted™ 18-49 demographic are actually lower than Jay's, as Talk Show News reported last week, that seems disingenuous at best. If everyone at NBC is 100% delighted with Leno and O'Brien's ratings, I'll eat a peacock.

Do the local stations have any options if they're unhappy with Leno's lead-in? Boston affiliate WHDH, which wanted to bump Leno in favor of a 10 PM local newscast, found that NBC was willing to play hardball -- the network threatened to strip the channel's affiliation, and WHDH quickly fell into line. However, if there's a mass mutiny, NBC might have to come up with some new ideas. One floated in the Times article: run Leno from 10:30-11:30, giving the affiliates the opportunity to do their late news at 10 PM. Many FOX stations already broadcast the local news at 10, since that net only programs between 8-10. "But that seems a long shot because many stations would be reluctant to play with their bulwark 11 p.m. newscasts," writes Flint. "Another unlikely possibility is the network could move Leno to 8 p.m."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Late Night Ratings: David Letterman has another "atypical week"

Whoever is writing the ratings press releases for NBC is having an increasingly tough time spinning the news. David Letterman is now winning the 18-49s -- but at least Conan still has the 18-34s! Letterman's high viewership numbers are clearly the result of an atypical week for the "Late Show" host!

This week, the publicist referred to Oct. 5-9 as "an atypical week that featured heightened interest created by recent revelations on CBS’s 'Late Show with David Letterman.'" Sept. 21-25 was also "an atypical week that featured guest appearances by President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton" (not to mention Conan's head injury). Sept. 7-11 was -- wait for it! -- "an atypical week... that included a Labor Day rebroadcast special and a late start on Wednesday due to the Presidential Congressional address."

Five weeks in a row, three of them "atypical." Next week may be considered "atypical" as well, since both shows will be in reruns and viewers might opt to watch "Late Show" to try and parse Dave's monologues and interactions with female guests to see if they can pick up any hints of the troubles to come.

Here are the total viewership numbers for Oct. 5-9:
CBS “Late Show,” 4.4 million viewers
ABC “Nightline,” 3.8 million viewers
NBC “Tonight,” 2.4 million viewers
Comedy Central “The Daily Show,” 1.5 million/“The Colbert Report,” 1.1 million viewers*
ABC “Kimmel,” 1.7 million viewers
CBS “Late Late Show,” 2.0 million viewers
NBC “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” 1.4 million viewers
NBC “Last Call,” 0.8 million viewers

*TDS/TCR ratings are only for the shows' initial airings, at 11 and 11:30 PM.

In case you want to compare and contrast, here are the numbers for a comparable week a year ago (Sept. 29-Oct. 3, 2008):

NBC “Tonight (with Jay Leno),” 4.7 million viewers
CBS “Late Show,” 3.6 million viewers
ABC “Nightline,” 3.6 million viewers
ABC “Kimmel,” 1.7 million viewers
NBC “Late Night (with Conan O'Brien),” 1.9 million viewers
CBS “Late Late Show,” 1.8 million viewers

Jay Leno actually had a higher rating among the 18-49s than Conan -- his season-to-date rating in that demographic was 1.3/5, vs. 1.0/4 for the O'Brien-hosted "Tonight Show."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Late Show" flashback: Creepy Dave; Conan's feud escalates


You know ratings news is getting too much attention when it's even showing up in the funny pages (that's the comic strip Bliss, above).

No ratings here today, though. If you thought that Entertainment Weekly photomontage of David Letterman in his undies was unpleasant, you've got to see the "American Gothic" image accompanying this Vanity Fair article. It could give you nightmares.

Author Jim Windolf reminds readers of a running 1990s "Late Show" gag many viewers (including myself) might have forgotten -- Creepy Dave. In this bit, a Letterman doppelganger, wearing a varsity jacket, lurked outside the window in the set's backdrop. (The host played both parts -- the Creepy Dave bits were filmed in advance and inserted into the shot via split-screen.) "Creepy Dave was the underside of Letterman; in his varsity high school jacket and baseball cap, he looked like some sort of American Elephant Man; he was the uncouth and monstrous version of the man who had successfully hidden himself inside a solidly built and highly remunerative stage persona, a construct that has begun to crack only in the past week or so, after a three-decade run."

Watchers with long memories might recall that Creepy Dave to ask "What's up?" or "Check it out, Dave... Can I have a ride home?" During one episode with guest Bryant Gumbel, Creepy Dave even lurked in the back during the interview. "With the Creepy Dave character, Letterman was seemingly trying to give his audience a clue that he had a hidden side," suggests Windolf.

Former Letterman writer and current New York Times "Ethicist" columnist Randy Cohen weighs in on the scandal in a column titled "Is Letterman Hurting Anyone?" "Almost from my first days on the show, early in 1984, there was talk that Dave was catting around with employees, and that these women were willing — eager — partners," writes Cohen. "None felt coerced. None felt harassed. All felt delighted to be involved with a man they found charming, attractive, amusing."

However, Cohen notes that his ex-boss "injured the rest of the staff by creating a sense that favoritism prevailed. To grant a subordinate access, opportunities and perhaps influence for nonprofessional reasons, particularly with a boss as aloof as Dave, can demoralize all who work for him. When, for example, Dave puts Stephanie Birkitt on camera, he gives her a professional opportunity other staff members crave." He also notes the tiny number of women who have written for Letterman over the years, stating, "Seeing other women benefit from sexual favoritism disheartens those rare women who wrote for the show and can discourage others from applying."

More high-profile media coverage of late night hosts: the New York Times' op-ed columnist Bob Herbert writes about the "feud" between Conan O'Brien and Newark mayor Cory Booker. Booker is a high profile target, having appeared on other talk shows (he recently appeared on "The Colbert Report") and in the Sundance Channel documentary series "Brick City."

Herbert suggests that the state of Newark is no laughing matter. "Conan was just trying to be funny, but the reality behind his late-night humor is horrifying... The inner cities have been in a recession for decades. They’re in a depression now. Myriad issues desperately need to be addressed: employment, education, the foreclosure crisis, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, health care (including mental health treatment and counseling), child care for working parents and on and on and on. Conan’s jokes would carry a silver lining if they could somehow prompt more people to think more seriously about what’s really going on in cities like Newark."

Booker seems to be enjoying the media attention -- he's scheduled to appear as a guest on "Tonight" this Friday.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Letterman's tabloid "feeding frenzy," Leno playing for the long haul

The New York Times has a couple of reports this morning on America's most newsworthy talk show hosts. An analysis of Jay Leno's first weeks at 10 PM shows that the former "Tonight" host is bringing in relatively puny ratings, attracting about five million viewers a night. "Though most 10 p.m. shows with those kinds of numbers get canceled, NBC has said from the beginning that it could accept much lower ratings because of the enormous cost savings of Mr. Leno’s show versus expensive hourlong scripted dramas," writes the Times' Bill Carter. However, with only two real prime time hits ("The Biggest Loser" and "The Office"), things are looking relatively bleak at the Peacock Network. NBC Universal Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin insists the network is "still investing in [scripted] programming," adding that "we have to play for the long haul... Jay is doing fine. Conan is doing what we expected him to do. We’re going to look at our average over the full year."

A look at the DVR ratings data suggests that at least NBC was right when they claimed one advantage of the "Leno" hour was that it would attract real live viewers, as opposed to time-shifters who fast forward through the ads. While shows like "Heroes" and "Dollhouse" added huge numbers of viewers when DVR usage was factored in, Leno's bump was essentially zero.

A Times piece by David Carr suggests that David Letterman's biggest tests might still lie ahead, thanks to accused extortionist Joe Halderman's hot-shot lawyer and a tabloid media that seems intent on covering every new twist and turn of the case. Lawrence K. Grossman, a former president of NBC News, says that Letterman "has done an amazing job and will retain both his center of gravity and his audience, much like Johnny [Carson] did," referring to the way the former "Tonight" host poked fun at his own marital misfortunes. But unlike Johnny, "this issue involves the courts, which means that this could drag on for a while and set off a feeding frenzy again and again thanks to the blogs, the cable channels and the tabloids, none of which show any sign of calming down."

Letterman "has lost custody of part of the story and a public process has been initiated that will create numerous opportunities for damaging coverage," writes Carr.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

David Letterman caught with his pants down on EW cover

dave coverAlmost exactly one month since he appeared on the cover of New York magazine, grinning triumphantly, David Letterman is shown in a much less flattering pose on the new Entertainment Weekly: literally caught with his pants down. (It's not a real photo, obviously, but an illustration; ah, the wonders of Photoshop.) The cover promises an inside look at "Letterman's survival strategy," but there's nothing new for those who have been following it on the Internet during the past week. Most of the information can be found in this EW blog post and the "exclusive" chat with an anonymous female ex-"Late Show" intern, who calls Dave “a good boss” and says that the program was a “great place to work.”

The magazine also features a half-dozen gags by other TV comics about Dave's situation, including Craig Ferguson's hilarious "I guess you know how I got my job now." One late night funnyman who hasn't said a word about Letterman on air: "The Daily Show"'s Jon Stewart. However, according to a report by a Television Without Pity forum poster who attended last night's taping of "Daily," Stewart was joking about it in his pre-show banter with the audience. When Jon came out before the show, he cracked, "I'm the host who doesn't have sex with his entire staff."

David Letterman: His alleged extortionist "lived on the edge"

The New York Times this morning ran a profile of alleged David Letterman blackmailer Joe Halderman, featuring quotes from people who have worked with him over the years. Colleagues described him as "a big personality with a penchant for running to the hottest news spots — the Falkland Islands, Bosnia and Somalia."

“He lived on the edge,” said one former co-worker, who asked not to be identified. Several colleagues confirmed that Halderman "was in apparent financial trouble, partly because of obligations from a divorce and child-support payments."

His lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel, "continued to argue on Wednesday that Mr. Letterman’s behavior and credibility would be relevant issues in the case, repeating, as he has in several media outlets, that Mr. Letterman sexually harassed his staff members."

"Asked about the accusation that he seemed to be trying to muddy Mr. Letterman’s reputation, Mr. Shargel said: 'This is not a parlor game. My client is facing 15 years in jail. If Letterman gets muddied up, so be it.'" blogger Josef Adalian surveyed 10 TV critics to ask them where "Davegate" goes from here. Most of them seem to feel Dave will be able to ride it out, despite the fact that the tabloids obviously love the story. "As long as he continues to make himself the butt of any jokes he tells in this ongoing 'What kind of jerk am I?' narrative, that's what his fans expect, and they'll no doubt eat it up," says TV Guide's Matt Roush. "The tricky part is how to continue without either belaboring the issue or altogether ignoring it.

"It could be worse. We could be hammering the show for being a complete waste of time. Letterman can at least rest easy that he isn't stuck in a dead-end cocoon of horror (one of my fave quotes from 'Glee' this season) ... like 'The Jay Leno Show.'" Ouch!

Madison Avenue, meanwhile, seems unperturbed by the scandal, according to a New York Times article. “For most advertisers in late-night, it’s not an intolerable situation,” said one media exec. “He handled it very deftly,” said another, referring to Letterman’s remarks on Thursday’s show, and often “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

In ratings news, Dave continues to be #1 in late night, with an average of 4.43 million viewers tuning in to each episode last week. "Late Show" "topped 'The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien' in viewers and adults 25-54 for the second consecutive week," says CBS. Letterman "beat 'The Tonight Show' in households by +68% (vs. 1.9/05), viewers by +66% (vs. 2.67m) and adults 25-54 by +17% (vs. 1.2/05)." Good news for Craig Ferguson, too -- his "Late Late Show" scored an average of 1.94 million viewers per episode, which "beat 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' in households (vs. 1.1/04, +36%), viewers (vs. 1.43m, +36%) and tied in both adults 25-54 and adults 18-49."

Monday, October 5, 2009

David Letterman: Wife was "horribly hurt" by revelations

After a weekend of media frenzy, the New York Times is reporting that David Letterman will address the extortion scandal once again on tonight's broadcast.

Letterman says his wife, Regina Lasko, was "horribly hurt," adding: “When something happens like that, if you hurt a person and it’s your responsibility, you try to fix it. And at that point, there’s only two things that can happen: either you’re going to make some progress and get it fixed, or you’re going to fall short and perhaps not get it fixed.” He also thanked his staff for “putting up with something stupid I’ve gotten myself involved in.”

The Los Angeles Times web site has a brief monologue clip, featuring a thunderous ovation from the studio audience and Dave asking, "Did your weekend just fly by?"

Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann had some choice things to say about alleged extortionist Joe Halberman. The men worked together at CNN. "There was no weeping when he left, I think, for CBS," Olbermann said. "I used to say he reminded me of John Belushi, only without the weight or the humor."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Jay Leno jokes about Dave; "no comment" from Conan

TV MoJoe reports that Jay Leno had a few monologue jokes about his ex-buddy David Letterman, including the following: "What is going on? First Conan hits his head, and then somebody tries to extort money from Letterman… I’m so glad I’m out of late night." And: "I was once a victim of an extortion plot. How do you think NBC got me to do a ten o’clock show? That’s why I’m here."

Conan O'Brien, however, was having none of it. The Associated Press writes that "Tonight" guest Drew Carey made reference to the scandal, and O'Brien responded with a "No comment." Jimmy Fallon made a lame Top 10 List joke. Both "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" and Dave's own "Late Show" were taped before the scandal broke.

Anyone curious about Dave's alleged blackmailer, veteran CBS producer Joe Halderman, should check out this Daily Beast profile, which features a brilliant statement from the always quotable Dan Rather: “This is obviously a tragedy,” Rather said. “Frankly, I couldn’t be more astonished that this guy was involved in something like this than if you came riding through my apartment on a hippopotamus.”

David Letterman: Why I Don't Care About His Affair

Judging from the media coverage, it looks like David Letterman had an affair with Stephanie Birkitt, a young woman who is well known to anyone who's seen the show in the past several years. She started out as an intern at "Late Show," then moved on to become an associate producer at "48 Hours," where alleged extortionist Robert Joe Halderman still worked until his suspension by CBS yesterday. Birkitt returned to "Late Show" and became a popular on-air personality, known for her phone calls with Dave, appearances during viewer participation segments, and remotes from the Winter Olympic Games.

Some viewers are angry that Dave might have cheated on Regina Lasko, his partner of 20+ years. But here's why I'm not feeling the outrage -- we don't know what went on in Letterman and Lasko's relationship. Both of them are extremely private people. They may have chosen to not be exclusive or monogamous. Plus, it's not like Dave was extolling "family values," like John Edwards or Gov. Mark Sanford. Sure, he made jokes about those men, but he never held himself up as a paragon of moral virtue. Quite the contrary. This is someone who called himself "the last of the real gunslingers" for managing to avoid marrying Lasko for so long, and has admitted that he "behaved badly" during his first marriage to Michelle Cook.

The only thing that would raise my ire would be if Letterman had somehow used his position as Birkitt's boss to threaten her into having a sexual relationship with him. Granted, some people may feel that any workplace relationship between a boss and an underling is inappropriate, as the balance of power is skewed. Some companies have rules in place to forbid such relationships. We can probably assume that no such stricture existed at Worldwide Pants. I'm willing to give Letterman the benefit of the doubt that the relationship was consensual.

Dave is a man who inspires fierce loyalty among his staffers -- look at the amazing number of people who have been with him since virtually the beginning of his TV talk show career, from Biff Henderson to Jude Brennan and Barbara Gaines. Letterman is obviously a complex, difficult, prickly person, but all evidence indicates that he's also a straight-up guy. It's interesting to note that the person threatening Dave with extortion was not Birkitt, but her ex-boyfriend. Stephanie herself is still working at "Late Show" -- and, according to, is "mortified" that Halderman would try to use her affair with Letterman as blackmail fodder.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

David Letterman Extortion Case Round-Up: Blackmailer is a CBS Employee

More news on the David Letterman case: gossip site has identified the extortionist as 51-year-old Norwalk, Connecticut resident Robert Joe Halderman. CBS News ID's him as a CBS employee, while Radar Online has the scoop that Halderman works on the newsmagazine "48 Hours" and "lived with the woman who David was involved with." The Radar report elaborates that the affair happened before the birth of Letterman's 6-year-old son Harry, but he was living with now-wife Regina Lasko at the time.

In an update, TMZ reports that Halderman has been suspended pending results of the investigation.

Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke has this statement from CBS:

CBS was made aware of an ongoing police investigation involving David Letterman and an employee at 48 Hours, who was subsequently arrested earlier today on charges of attempted grand larceny in the first degree. CBS is cooperating fully with the authorities and the employee has been suspended pending the results of the investigation. Mr. Letterman addressed the issue during the show’s broadcast this evening, and we believe his comments speak for themselves.
The show's airing is still a couple hours away here on the West Coast, but HitFix blogger Daniel Fienberg Twitters that "Letterman just spun the extortionist as a Puritanical nerd and got cheers for sleeping with staffers."

Update: The New York Daily News is now reporting that according to "public records," 31-year-old Stephanie Birkitt once lived with Joe Halderman.

David Letterman: "Yes, I have" had affairs with female staffers

According to the New York Daily News, during the taping of tonight's "Late Show," David Letterman told "his stunned audience" about the grand jury testimony he made today: he had affairs with "several female staffers," and a blackmailer threatened to go public with evidence unless Dave paid $2 million in hush money.

"The 'Late Show' host received a package from an individual who claimed to have information on his dalliances and said he would be outed unless he came up with $2 million," according to the Daily News account.

Pity Dave's mom Dorothy -- the Daily News called her up for a quote. Dorothy said Dave's wife, Regina Lasko, had told her about the blackmail, but that she didn't know any details: "I'm looking forward to seeing the show tonight to see what he has to say."

Lasko and Letterman dated for over 20 years before finally tying the knot back in March.

At, Dave is quoted as saying: "My response to that is, yes I have" slept with staffers. "Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would. I feel like I need to protect these people -- I need to certainly protect my family."

The extortionist was caught with the help of the Special Prosecution Bureau of the Manhattan District Attorney's office. No word yet on the identity of the culprit.

Jay Leno: ABC, CBS talent boycotting his show

The Los Angeles Times reports today that ABC and CBS are telling their stars to stay off "The Jay Leno Show." "They are determined not to let Leno's 10 p.m. program undercut viewership of their costly dramas when they are trying to build audiences at the start of the TV season," writes Meg James.

Leno was able to book plenty of guests from other networks when he was on at 11:30. But "'In prime time, the stakes are higher and you have to protect your flank,' said one network executive who asked not to be identified to avoid inflaming hostilities among the broadcast networks."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine") defied the ban when she appeared on Leno's show a couple days ago.

Despite the boycott, Leno doesn't seem to be facing a guest shortage. FOX, which only programs from 8-10 PM, is happy to allow stars like Hugh Laurie to come on "Leno." HBO is also encouraging its talent to sit down with Jay, including Bill Maher and "Curb Your Enthusiasm"'s Larry David. And, of course, NBC has some prime time stars of its own -- "The Office"'s Jenna Fischer and Steve Carell are both on with Leno this week.

Movie stars have also been eager to visit "The Jay Leno Show." The Times' James names Drew Barrymore, Vince Vaughn, Robin Williams, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and Cameron Diaz as a few of the cinematic A-listers who have appeared on "Leno" during its first few weeks.

Late Night Ratings: "Late Show" finally triumphs among 18-49s

It seemed pointless to continue these Late Night Ratings posts, as the weekly releases had fallen into a predictable pattern -- CBS crowing, "David Letterman has way more viewers than Conan!" and NBC countering, "But Dave's audience is OLD! The coveted™ 18-49 demographic belongs to O'Brien!" However, CBS announced today that "Late Show" "topped 'The Tonight Show' in viewers, adults 18-49 and adults 25-54 for the first time since 2005 and tied in adults 18-34."

"Late Show" "beat 'The Tonight Show' on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and tied for first on Tuesday among adults 18-49," says CBS.

NBC's spin: it was "
an atypical week," thanks to Dave's sit-downs with President Obama and former President Clinton, as well as Conan's head injury, which brought on an unscheduled rerun on Friday. Plus, "The median age of Conan's audience last week was 46.9, more than eight years younger than 'Nightline's' 55.8 and more than nine years younger than Letterman's 56.6."

Still, Dave's weekly average viewership was 5 million, compared with Conan's 2.4 million. ("Nightline" also did well, with 4.2 million viewers.) No one at NBC can be too happy about that.

The New York Times' Bill Carter adds a bit of analysis: "Mr. O’Brien posted the lowest-rated week for 'Tonight' since Mr. Letterman joined CBS in 1993." He also notes that "Mr. Leno had 4.73 million viewers last year." Jay even did better in the younger demos: "Tonight" "lost 23 per cent in the 18-49 group and 31 per cent in the 25-54 group from last year." Ouch.