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Sex, Intrigue and Late Night Television

October 3, 2009

If I wasn’t already a fan of David Letterman, I’d be leaning that way today. Sure, Dave isn’t perfect, as his admissions revealed last night, but his class in the face of a brewing personal and professional scandal is something that many others in the limelight should study and learn from.

In case you missed the story, here are the bare bones; Letterman used the first 10 minutes of his show last night to announce that he was the target of a blackmailer who wanted $2 million in exchange for not revealing embarrassing personal facts, including that Letterman had sexual affairs with members of his staff. The blackmailer, by the way, is named as Robert Halderman, an Emmy award-winning producer for CBS News’* 48 Hours who once shared a residence with one of Letterman’s former assistants and sexual partners. Got it? Good.

The first thing I have to say is that if this wasn’t all real, it would make for some fine television. In fact, I’m fully expecting a Letterman-themed episode of Law & Order by the end of the season. The second thing I have to say is that I think Letterman will come out of this whole thing relatively unscathed. Sure, he fucked up and sleeping with subordinates is a big no-no (at least officially) in most corporate cultures. That said, Dave is certainly not the first boss who has diddled the help and he probably won’t be the last.

Part of the problem for Dave, professionally at least, is that a big part of his schtick has been to lampoon various politicians and corporate chieftains who have found themselves in the same position he’s now in. Those jokes are now off limits for him as he has admitted to being no better than the public figures he’s raked over the coals in the past. It’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black and that’s a tough thing for a comedian and cultural critic like Letterman to overcome. Can he do it? Only time will tell, but I think you’re going to see a more tone-downed show for a while.

Professionally, Letterman also has to expect some fallout from the suits at CBS. Sure, he’s not in as much trouble as Halderman who put this whole scheme in motion, but the fact is, his actions have opened him and the company up to potential legal action from former Late Show staffers who may now come forward and say they were intimidated into sleeping with the boss in order to protect their jobs. Are those potential claims true? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter since in the court of public perception, charges often carry more weight than facts.

Things on the home front probably aren’t going to be much better for Dave either. After marrying his long-term girlfriend earlier this year (the pair dated for more than 20 years before tying the knot), this is not the kind of revelation that’s going to lead to further domestic tranquility. Of course, Dave’s wife is also a former staffer on the show (as was Dave’s previous girlfriend), so that fact that her husband likes to dip his pen in the company ink can’t come as too much of a shock. Still, I would expect things to be kind of tense around the Letterman family compound this weekend.

So, why am I still a Letterman fan? Because the man handled this whole unpleasant situation with dignity. Unlike Mark Sanford, John Edwards or Nevada’s own Senator John Ensign, Letterman didn’t skirt the issue or try to dance around the facts. He flat out admitted that yes, he was unfaithful. No euphemisms. No BS. Just a straight up “Yup, I fucked up.” Will it be enough to save his job and family? I don’t know, but I hope so because even as imperfect as he may be, television will be far worse off without Dave.

*In the sake of full disclosure, I am a former CBS News staffer, having spent five years working for CBS News/Radio. I do not know Robert Halderman, though I have met Letterman and do know some of his former staffers.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2009 2:01 am

    Well said… Great information, keep up the great work!

  2. October 3, 2009 12:37 pm

    If we could only get Disney anamatronics to bring back Johnny…

    Here’s Johnny!


    Whether Leno or Letterman the themes tend toward mean spirited. Carson could get the same laugh with just a look. When the petards get nastier and nastier one can get hoisted on their own while saving the crowd the need to look for one.

    His rating are up though and I’m sure one of the added viewers is Bill Clinton who’s ROFL.

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