Thursday, October 8, 2009

Late Night Shakedown

So why is everyone talking about the sex-ploits of late night Lothario David Letterman and not his sleazy would-be extortionist Joe Halderman, who to borrow a word from Dave's lexicon bears a "creepy" resemblance to the infamous BTK killer? I'm guessing it's about celebrity and the fact that a lot of folks have--or wish they could--engage in an office romance. On the other hand, very few of us are in the lofty position to fend off potential blackmailers.

As a note of disclosure: I count myself among the the women that comprise 58% of Letterman's audience. Recently, I've been more of a casual than avid viewer (though my viewership, along with everyone else's, has gone up since last Thursday.) I've been a fan since I was a kid and my sister and I would send in letters replete with shocking Polaroids of a Paul Schaeffer look-alike teddy bear we were sure would garner us a spot on the old "Viewer Mail" segment. Never happened. But Ive long since transferred all that bitterness and resentment to a succession of disappointing old boyfriends and bosses.

Ah, the "B" word. It's Dave's status as a boss that has him in hot water with the women who are mad at him(my unscientific survey of radio callers and e-mailers finds about a 50-50 split between Dave dumpers and supporters)and media scolds. A snarky New York Post columnist has demanded CBS immediately axe him. And Facebook friends of Sarah Palin are chirping similar sentiments.

Of course, the cable TV pundits are weighing in nightly on his motivations and fate. National scold Jane Velez Mitchell offered her arm chair diagnosis:"I see a pattern here," the inexplicably loud(hey, don't need to shout,Jane, they've got this nifty invention called the microphone)self-promoter said on her HLN show."Here's a man who has the most glamorous and beautiful women in the world come on his show, and still he goes after young women on his staff... I have a theory... he has low self esteem." Maybe. Or maybe he just connected with these women, many of whom are average-looking plain Janes. Makes sense, as I've always found Dave's sex appeal to fall somewhere between that of Pee Wee Herman's and Michael Moore's (just which side of that spectrum is sexier is in the eye of the beholder).

His old girlfriend Merrill Markoe--the former head writer of his old NBC show--said on her blog:"I'm mad because Dave always promised I'd be the only woman he'd cheat on." A funny quip from a funny woman. Say what you will about Letterman and this whole sordid mess, but there are far more female producers and writers on his show than on most other late night and comedy shows. And many of them stay on for years. Insiders have said Letterman actually fosters a positive working environment for women.

Be that as it may, the National Organization of Women has chimed in. While NOW falls short of calling for Dave's dismissal, it does want CBS to take "some immediate action." Don't hold your breath. For one thing, Letterman isn't a CBS employee. He works for his own company--the aptly named Worldwide Pants--and according to a statement he hasn't violated any of their policies. And CBS President Les Moonves had a very public affair with Julie Chen while he was married, eventually divorcing his wife and marrying the much younger anchor. So unless some truly creepy developments emerge, don't expect any action from the Tiffany network.

Here's the thing to keep in mind: Letterman admitted to engaging in multiple relationships with employees. Okay, but they were all consensual and all between consenting adults. No need to compare Dave to Roman Polanksi or Woody Allen. That the women were all subordinates and many twenty plus years younger(his wife Regina Lasko--a former Late Show assistant--is twelve years younger)may offend some sensibilities, but there's nothing illegal about such hanky-panky.

But Joe Halderman--the desperado 48 Hours producer--did allegedly commit a crime. For its part, CBS has suspended him. Without(so far) making any comment or announcing any internal investigation. His high-profile attorney Gerald Shargel has already made the rounds of the morning shows, hurling veiled threats towards Letterman. We don't have the whole truth, he contends. He can't wait to cross-examine Letterman. More to come.

I wonder if Dave's sorry he didn't pay the thug off. TV legal eagles have offered a melange of advice. Some say Dave was right to nab the guy in the Manhattan D.A.'s sting operation( I agree; no one should give in to intimidation and thuggery). Others like celeb attorney Mark Geragos thinks it would have been wiser to "make the thing go away." Not pay the slime off, but "educate him," he offered on Larry King Live. "I've handled over a dozen such cases. And you make it clear to these people and their lawyers that they don't want to commit a crime. You don't pay them a cent and they do go away."

Too late for that now. Still, every scandal has an upside. For Dave it's ratings gold. His ratings--already higher than they've been in years thanks to that Palin joke and NBC's misguided late night switcharoo that left Conan O'Brien at the helm of The Tonight Show--have continued to spike. In fact, Letterman's ratings over the last week are higher than NBC's prime time lineup! So keep apologizing, Dave. Don't know if it's working at home, but it's certainly working with the home audience.

Drive safe. play nice. Think peace.


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