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.