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Letterman's Surprise Admission: An Unexpected Late-Night Time Bomb
October 2, 2009  | By David Bianculli
late-show-w-david-letterman.jpgThe expectations and predictions regarding Jay Leno's move to prime time, and Conan O'Brien's inheritance of NBC's Tonight Show, were thought to be the biggest moves regarding the late-night TV wars of 2009. All of that might be eclipsed, though, by what happens next after David Letterman's surprising Thursday night admission...

What are we to make of all this? On CBS's Late Show with David Letterman, Letterman delivered his "story" candidly, unemotionally but incompletely: For the past few weeks, he's been blackmailed by someone threatening to expose Letterman's sexual encounters with certain female staff members. The inference, though nothing was made clear, is that at least one of these took place after Letterman married his long-time girlfriend earlier this year.

late-show-david-letterman-t.jpgA grand jury has gotten involved, and a sting that caught the blackmailer in the act -- but what does this do to Letterman's image, and audience, and program, and reputation?

Show business is so weird and unpredictable, the only accurate prediction is to guess that one of three things will happen. One, the controversy, as it develops, will have no measurable effect. Two, Letterman will lose viewers, just as he was gaining substantial ground opposite O'Brien in the 11:35 p.m. ET time slot. Three, the controversy, because of America's fascination with all things prurient, will bring Letterman even more viewers.

My guess is that this is an unexploded bomb that may or may not go incendiary, depending upon what happens in the next few weeks, how Letterman handles things, and how it's received. But no one saw THIS coming. And I wonder: Among the late-night comics, who will consider this fair ground for humor?

Will Leno or O'Brien, who got the Tonight Show though Letterman did not? Will Craig Ferguson, whose paycheck is SIGNED by Letterman? And will Letterman himself return to the topic, or avoid it assiduously?

Who would have thought that, in looking for a reason to make the late-night TV rounds this fall, the most compelling reason would be provided by a Letterman scandal? Stay tuned. Definitely.




elise said:

Shocked, I tell you, shocked. I caught it accidentally; I haven't stayed up late, lately...almost clicked right by it, and for some reason stayed to watch his short story. Tough decision to admit his transgressions.... I admire him for that.... And maybe his admissions will keep the wolves at bay. (Not sure about his wife, though!) I hope so. Having said that, and having a certain cynical view of the human race, I pick your third option.

Comment posted on October 2, 2009 8:38 AM

John said:

David, isn't it more likely that he will never mention it again? A few years ago there was the extortion plot to kidnap his son and nanny for $5million. After he announced that he never once has made a reference to it since. I think he will do the same with this although after making the jokes about Palin he has continued to make references to that event. I watch him nightly and I found the whole story to be quite shocking and really creepy. I like him as an entertainer, what he does in his personal life is none of my business.
To both Davids - keep up the good work.

Comment posted on October 2, 2009 9:27 AM

Alan said:

I didn't infer that these were recent affairs. In fact, one article I read suggested that they occurred "long before" son Harry's arrival but during the time he has been with Regina Lasko. Other articles this morning suggest that the attempted extortionist was the onetime roommate of Letterman staffer Stephanie Birkitt, whose appearances on the show ended abruptly several years ago.

The inference I draw is that Birkitt is one of the aforementioned staffers with whom he had an affair. I suspect the reference to multiple affairs was a smokescreen constructed by Letterman to shield Birkitt by diverting at least some attention from her to the task of figuring out who else might have been involved. That's just my hunch.

Comment posted on October 2, 2009 10:07 AM

Greg David said:

The only thing that is for certain is that the American People and the American media will handle it all very badly. Who Letterman sleeps with is between him, those he sleeps with and his wife and child (and not necessarily even his child). If the relationship with the co-worker was consentual then even CBS or the law has no business there either. And if CBS is a decent employer they will get behind the privacy of their employees and galvanize against this blackmailer.

However, the "moral majority" (who are neither moral nor a majority) will surely weigh in, probably lead by those on the Right that so want to bring Letterman down. Folks like Palin, Bush, Cheney, Limbaugh, Hannity, O-Reilly plus all those loud-mouthed, holier-than-thou, daytime talk show women, so it ain't gonna go well. It should get quite ugly, in my estimation.

Furthermore, I expect that the only ones to act at all decently, are the likes of Leno, Conan & Ferguson. Sure, they will make jokes, but jokes is all they will be, jokes that make it easier for us all to get over it, and Letterman too. Not an attempt to destroy a man who has done so much for us over the years to keep the all the a-h's on the right (and left) a little bit at bay!

Comment posted on October 2, 2009 12:02 PM

Rob R said:

Upfront allow me to admit that I'm a Dave guy, always have been and still we be because he his the perfect coda to a long day, much like Johnny Carson was comfort food for all those great many years.
Dave is my TV friend. He isn't my elected representative, my spouse or parent. That he had affairs with co-workers, or cheated on his girlfriend (Dave, the inference that cheating occurred since his wedding wasn't as clear to me as it was to you apparently...but if it is true: it is none of our business, it doesn't in anyway affect my life or my ability to laugh along with him).
I guess I'm old school. I like my actors, entertainers and athletes for what they do professionally, creatively not who they are off stage. It is so tiresome watching arm chair-puritans judge the lives of celebrities, and a media who stand by and observe and report the incendiary reactions of others as if the opinions of others are themselves news.
Tonight Dave has Larry David as a guest, what more could you want from free broadcast TV??

Comment posted on October 2, 2009 1:13 PM

Tausif Khan said:

Letterman said on the air last night that he would not revisit the topic on his show. He also took questions from the audience after he revealed his inappropriate behavior.

I found it interesting that in his monologue previous to the telling of this story he called Roman Polanski a criminal and agreed that he should be brought to justice.

How different is Roman Polanski's situation from David Letterman's situation? Both were in a position of power and used it for their sexual gain.

Comment posted on October 2, 2009 7:16 PM

Sean Dougherty said:

Interesting that a man who would make crude jokes about a 15-year-old-girl is now in trouble for using his power as one of the biggest names in show business to coerce his staff into sleeping with him.

Sure, there is nothing yet that says the sex wasn't consensual but based on the uneven level of powers involved I'm sure it will meet any courtroom definition of harassment. And who wants to bet these women were decades younger than Letterman? That would make him a dirty old man as well - and I'd take that action.

Anyone who took his side over Sarah Palin in the controversy earlier this year must be feeling pretty stupid.

Comment posted on October 2, 2009 7:28 PM

Rich said:

You know what's odd? I don't think the Gen X set even cares. There are things that shock you as a 'Never saw that one coming' event. I thought about Hugh Grant's "I did a bad thing" moment on Leno. I think about "Seinfeld" actor Kramer's 'racial rant' and smaller things like Danny DeVito drunk on "The View"...but I personally don't think Dave's relevant enough to be "shocking" with anyone 30 & younger. Does anyone even care about Dave's sex life?

I do think he's 'fair game' for any comedian (and SNL) but again - who cares...it's Dave Letterman. If it was Jimmy Kimmel, Howard Stern, Anderson Cooper, Brian Williams, even someone from Fox News- it'd be News worthy. Jon Gosslin (Jon & Kate +8) probably gets more ink at this point.

It's a shame, though. I remember late 80's & early-mid 90's Letterman where it seemed like anything goes and he wasn't 'safe' like Jay. Maybe it was the bypass, but he lost his fire along time ago- It's nice to see he's still a risk taker (just not on the show). This 'blackmail' will be a Non-Factor.

 Comment posted on October 2, 2009 11:18 PM

Gregory Kibitz said:


I thought I kept my previous comments on this one clean, sensible and objective and yet I see it here not.

Watched the coverage of this issue on the evening news (CBS & ABC) last night and some online news stories yesterday on AOL. But I fell asleep in front of the TV too early last night and missed Larry David on Letterman. I also missed every single other late night talk show (I usually watch at least several of them, incl. NBC, CBS & Comedy Central and HBO/Maher on Fri). I am desperately trying to find some video of at least the Larry David part of Letterman last night, if not the whole show, but thus far, to no avail.

So as yet, no more comments other than CBS news covered it no different than ABC news and AOL was about the same. More about the evil perpetrated on Letterman than anything pointing fingers at him and his trespasses/infidelity. To me that is a very good thing. But there is an AOL linked story up on the actual CBS employee/underling he was with and I have not yet read that. Off to now.

Comment posted on October 3, 2009 8:26 AM

Rich said:

to Greg-

I saw it - boring. He interviewed Olivia Wilde who in 5 minutes became 20 times more interesting that anything Dave could've said. How? She admitted she is an actual "Princess" cause she married an Italian Prince who lived in a school bus. Yeah, a Real Prince who actually wooed her and she fell in love with him and he lived in a yellow converted school bus. When she got her first TV show gig, "Skin" - she lived in said school bus.

Dave could've been abducted by Aliens and I'd still be asking about Olivia Wilde (her real last name is "Cockburn"- no lie). Sides, Letterman's thing got bumped by Obama getting 'dissed' in Copenhagen by the Olympic Committee, so by Monday no one's gonna remember Dave's issue.

Comment posted on October 5, 2009 1:58 AM

Colleen said:

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm a Letterman girl. Have been for years.

What I'm noticing are personal, gut reactions to Dave's announcement. Yes, he was sleeping with his staff. Yes, he was being blackmailed over the relationships. But the story is the blackmail attempt. Anything else, frankly, is none of the public's business.

Is there public interest? Duh, it's a scandal. Of course people show interest - it's gossip. Do I think it will affect his career? No. I believe that his open admission to doing "creepy" things, and the fact that he chose to break the story himself, will endear him to his loyalists, and make it more of a non-story to those who don't particularly care.

Comment posted on October 6, 2009 6:53 PM
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