Well, there go all the Sarah Palin jokes. David Letterman's stunning revelation on Thursday night's show that he had been the victim of an extortion plot is sure to make plenty of Top 10 lists this morning.
Many Letterman fans will shrug off news that, over an unspecified time, the 62-year-old host had sex with female workers on his show, which he admitted on air Thursday in a straight ahead attempt to defang the scandal. The nine minute confession made for riveting television.
Others will have a harder time laughing at jokes aimed at Palin or Roman Polanski or name whatever politician or celebrity caught with their pants down and not ponder the hosts' own affairs. Those on the political right who have been gunning for Dave for eight years of Bush mocking and more recent Palin put downs will make it their business to fill Talk Radio with Dirty Old Man Dave attacks.
Still, Bob Barker had to admit he dipped in the Price is Right work pool after law suits emerged. Instead of creeping people out, the news seemed to make him a hero, at least to Adam Sandler fans.
The difference here is that Barker did not make a living goofing on stars who can't keep it in their pants. And Letterman, an intensely private, principled man of mid-west values, will be more likely to agonize over this. As Letterman himself said Thursday night, "I'm a towering mass of Lutheran Midwestern guilt."
All the more reason to applaud his decision to come clean on Thursday night's show. Letterman didn't run and hide, didn't deny, just up and copped to the deal in a very public way. Guest Woody Harrelson dealt with the news with good humour and dexterity. It's going to come up with others in the coming weeks. Watching Dave squirm is part of the fun of Late Show with David Letterman. Robin Williams and Billy Crystal will pull his pants down every chance they get. Howard Stern must be having a field day. Think if the news had broken one night earlier. Wouldn't Madonna have stood up and said, "See? Take it all back, you pig."
Unless there are more lurid details to follow, all that has happened here is that Letterman stepped outside of a committed relationship and had affairs. Alert the media--Dave is as human as the rest of us. Let Rush Limbaugh cast the first stone.
Details are starting to emerge about the blackmail attempt. Seems the perpetrator was a CBS employee, one Robert J. Haldeman, an Emmy-nominated 48 Hours producer.
The news comes at an awkward time for CBS. Letterman has been on a great run, with president Barack Obama and former president Clinton guesting in the last week or so (wouldn't Clinton have loved to have exacted some revenge. And that next visit from Dr. Phil? Please). In a terrific article in New York magazine, Peter W. Kaplan declared Letterman grown up at last after decades of silly frosh week behaviour. Letterman has become the daddy of us all on TV, ranting like Andy Rooney, reasoning with world leaders, moving beyond stupid pet tricks to what matters most. Marriage, fatherhood and heart surgery have all brought us and older, wiser, Letterman.
As guest co-host Mark Consuelo pointed out this morning on Live with Regis and Kelly (how could Reege miss this?), "He did it the right way." "He came out and told the whole story and protected people." Wife Kelly Ripa's advice: Take the two million the extortionist wanted and spend it trying to save your marriage. "Two million buys a lot of forgiveness," said Ripa.
They'll roast Dave on The View, on Anderson Cooper, on just about everywhere today. By Monday, well, depends on who Dave was shtuping and how much the tabs want to spill. The deal for CBS is this: Letterman topped The Tonight Show in viewers 18-49 and adults 25-54 and tied in adults 18-34 last week. That hasn't happened since 2005.
Bottom line, Letterman told the truth and--albeit when backed into a tight corner--did the right thing. Viewers and CBS aren't likely to punish him for that. Dave has sex. As Carson would say, "I did not know that."
UPDATE: Veteran AP journalist Lynn Elber does a brilliant job deconstructing Letterman's Late Show mia culpa here.