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Mar 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Monday, March 11, at 8:59 a.m. (PT); updated at 6:30 p.m.

Dave makes it official: He’s staying at CBS

David Letterman has decided to stay at CBS. ABC has decided to leave “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m.

The CBS “Late Show” host, whose flirtation with ABC had all but pushed the war on terrorism off both front pages and editorial pages since it was leaked to the press on March 1, ended the national waiting and guessing game Monday night during the taping of his first show after a vacation on St. Barts.

At the end of a day of remembrances of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, he acknowledged his contract drama seemed “downright silly.” He complimented Ted Koppel, whose “Nightline” time slot ABC had offered to Mr. Letterman, for his sense of humor, saying “He actually might be too funny for a newsman,” and for his achievements. “At the very least,” said Mr. Letterman, “he deserves the right to determine his own professional future. He deserves no less than that.”

As for Mr. Letterman, “It is my hope to finish my career here at CBS,” he said. Although CBS was declining to give details of the contract, sources familiar with it said it was for up to five years and would pay Mr. Letterman about $31 million a year and use the platforms of sister MTV Networks to promote “Late Show.”

In a statement, CBS President Les Moonves pronounced the network “thrilled that CBS will continue to be the home of David Letterman” and vowed, “We truly believe the best is yet to come.”

The resolution set off a flurry of statements from ABC. The most dramatic was signed by “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel and executive producers Tom Bettag and Leroy Sievers. “All of us at ‘Nightline’ wish our friend, David Letterman, continued success at CBS. These cannot have been easy days for him. They have certainly not been for us,” said the statement. “We are sure that Disney, in its efforts to sign Mr. Letterman, did not intend to inflict any damage on ABC News in general or ‘Nightline’ in particular; but intentionally or not, collateral damage has been done.

“We hope the corporate leadership of Disney understands that it would not be reasonable to expect all of us at ‘Nightline’ to continue our work in a climate of ongoing uncertainty. There must be a great many talented comedians who would welcome the opportunity to take over the ‘Nightline’ time slot. Our hope is that Disney will send a clear and unmistakable signal to them, to us, to the advertising community and to all of our loyal viewers interested in the robust future of network television news that ‘Nightline’ can count on serious corporate backing.

“No one in this business expects a program to last in perpetuity,” continued the statement, “but we need something more than bland assurances or a short-term guarantee. We need to be able to plan, to prepare, to settle down to work again.”

Although Disney President Bob Iger had been credited with running the Letterman negotiations, ABC Television Network President Alex Wallau was the executive to whom it fell to acknowledge defeat in the negotiations that had, by all accounts, undermined ABC News President David Westin (who had been blindsided by the news that his network was negotiating with Mr. Letterman) and put “Nightline’s” future in doubt.

“‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ was an opportunity that ABC felt compelled to pursue,” said Mr. Wallau. “From the outset, we’ve always said that Ted Koppel and ‘Nightline’ would have a significant presence at ABC News. ‘Nightline’ will remain in its time period, where it will continue to provide its distinctive brand of journalism for the network.”

Mr. Westin released a statement saying, “I’ve always strongly believed in ‘Nightline’ and am gratified that it will continue in its time period.”

Late Monday night, Rob Burnett, president of Worldwide Pants, the company that produces “Late Show,” “The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” for CBS and “Ed” for NBC, said Mr. Letterman had made his “personal gut decision” to stay at CBS only Monday afternoon.

“I don’t think there was one deciding factor,” said Mr. Burnett, who added that it is “Dave’s decision” whether he stays at CBS for the full five years.

Mr. Moonves “has given me his word and Dave his word that they will take great care of the show,” said Mr. Burnett, describing the relationship as a “re-energized” marriage.

“There were no unreasonable requests,” said Mr. Burnett.

Asked about the reports that Mr. Letterman had wanted to be assured that even after he left CBS he could control the 12:35 a.m.-to-1:35 a.m. time slot now occupied by Mr. Kilborn, Mr. Burnett said that the issue had been raised in the spirit of Mr. Letterman’s camp’s feelings that, having created CBS’s first-ever late night franchise, they deserved “first crack” at any late-night programming.

“Frankly, we’re still hopeful that we would get that crack,” said Mr. Burnett. “Not to be immodest but … I think we’re very qualified and deserving.”

No one was able to say when the cross-promotions for “Late Show” will start on Viacom’s youth-centric networks or who will produce them.

While Mr. Moonves himself reportedly picked up the signed contract from Mr. Letterman on Monday, the “Late Show” host, for whom network executives are a comic punching bag, wasn’t sounding as though he had just exchanged hugs and kisses.

“The morons running this network think there won’t be fistfights. By God, there will be fistfights, and that’s too bad,” Mr. Letterman said on his show.

He was more gracious to ABC. “I would rather ride naked on the subway than go through what these people had to go through with the last couple of weeks,” he said. “There goes the vacation to Disney World.”

It’s over for ‘Sally Jessy’: The landscape of daytime continues to change this year, with Studios USA pulling the plug on “The Sally Jessy Raphael Show” at the end of this season. “Sally” is the longest-running talk show currently on daytime television, with a 20-year run, and the first nationally syndicated single-topic talk show hosted by a woman. The series currently appears in 98 percent of the country.

The series was renewed in more than 70 percent of the United States for another season, but sources said the series was unable to secure a New York clearance after losing WNBC.

“I’ve been on television for 46 years, which must be a record,” said Ms. Raphael. “I’ve been proud of many of the shows we’ve produced over the last two decades. It was my personal statement about the issues facing society and the moral choices that people make. It has been important to me to tackle topics that are meaningful and in good taste.”

Said Studios USA Domestic Television President Steve Rosenberg, “On both a personal and professional level, this is very difficult for me and everyone at Studios USA. I will miss working with Sally, who I consider to be a consummate pro.”

Nearly 40 million watch CBS’s ‘9/11′ broadcast: CBS’s special presentation of “9/11” attracted 38.98 million viewers Sunday evening, according to preliminary ratings information from Nielsen Media Research. The two-hour documentary (9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET) on New York City firefighters’ response to the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks reached more prime time viewers than any other non-sports broadcast this season and posted a 16.2 rating/34 share in the adults 18 to 49 demographic. Final National Nielsen ratings will be available Tuesday.

On WCBS-TV, New York, “9/11” scored a 35.4 Nielsen Media Research rating and 47 share for the two hour documentary. It was the highest household rating among more than 50 local overnight markets. The 11 p.m. WCBS-TV newscast that followed got a 21.8/36 for the half hour. The newscast was expanded for another half-hour to midnight, and that second half-hour scored a 13.4/29.

In Los Angeles, KCBS-TV got a 21.9/32 for the documentary, and the station’s 11 p.m. news scored an 11.0/25, the highest performance for that newscast in more than a year. It beat out competing newscasts from KNBC-TV (5.0/11) and KABC-TV (5.8/13).

Former CBS president Leahy dead at 64: Thomas F. Leahy, w
ho rose through the ranks at CBS over a three-decade career with the network and was president of the CBS Television Network from 1986 through 1989, died Friday, March 8, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He had been undergoing treatment for cancer. Mr. Leahy was 64.

Mr. Leahy retired from CBS in June 1992. His last three years with the network, he was president of then-new CBS Marketing Division.

Mr. Leahy was also president of the Theatre Development Fund; dean of the School of Journalism, Media and Information Studies at Queens College; president of Studio Lane Productions; and chairman of the board of the Broadway Association.

A mass will be celebrated at St. Joseph’s Church, Broxville, N.Y., Tuesday, March 12, at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to The American Melanoma Foundation, 3914 Murphy Canyon Road, Suite A132, San Diego, CA 92123.

SAG honors casts of ‘Wing’ and ‘Sex’: Top TV acting honors at the annual Screen Actors Guild awards Sunday night went to the ensemble casts of NBC’s “The West Wing” and HBO’s “Sex and the City” and to Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally, who play the lead characters’ two sidekicks on NBC’s “Will & Grace.”

But SAG wasn’t the only award show on Hollywood’s social calendar over the weekend. TV honors from the Directors Guild went to Alan Ball for HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” Todd Holland for Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” and Frank Pierson for HBO’s “Conspiracy,” an original movie about the genesis of the Nazi’s so-called Final Solution.

At the SAG show, which was televised by TNT, Ben Kingsley, also an Oscar nominee this year, won the TV movie and miniseries acting award for his role as Otto Frank in another World War II-themed movie, ABC’s “Anne Frank.”

CNN cancels World Report Conference: CNN has canceled what would have been its 13th annual World Report Conference due to expectation of low turnout. The conference was scheduled for April 30-May 2 in Atlanta, home of CNN headquarters. A spokesman attributed the decision, finalized late last week and announced internally Monday, to various factors, including the recession and news organizations’ “internal budget challenges.” CNN plans to “focus efforts on next spring,” the spokesman said.

CNN will post the winners of awards that would have been handed out at the annual gathering — which is part colloquium, part schmoozefest with CNN content donors from around the world — on the World Report page on CNN.com on May 1.

The news network still plans to sponsor the month-long International Professional Program training sessions in June and October, the spokesman said, adding that details are still to come.

Tribune restructures TV management team: Tribune Co. announced Monday a restructuring of the senior management team in its television division.

Peter Walker, senior VP of Tribune Television, will now oversee the East Coast and Southern regions of the company’s station group, as well as WGN-TV, Chicago, and WGN Superstation. The East Coast stations were previously the responsibility of Michael Eigner, who announced his retirement last week.

John Reardon will add responsibility for KWGN-TV, Denver, to his duties overseeing the West Coast region of Tribune Television.

Joe Young, VP and general manager of KDAF-TV, Dallas, has been promoted to regional VP, Tribune Television. He will continue as general manager of KDAF-TV, in addition to overseeing WBZL-TV, Miami, KHWB-TV, Houston, and WGNO-TV/WNOL-TV, New Orleans.

Steve Carver, VP and general manager WGN-AM, Chicago, has been promoted to regional vice president. In addition to WGN-AM, he will oversee WXIN-TV, Indianapolis, and WXMI-TV, Grand Rapids.

Bravo unveils fall schedule details: Bravo executives announced five new series for 2002-03 at a Manhattan press gathering Monday. The series are:

— “Gay Weddings,” eight real-life half-hours, debuting in August, looking at four lesbian and four gay couples as they plan to wed.

— “Art Crimes & Mysteries,” six hours, debuting in the second quarter of next year, focusing on high-profile art thefts.

— “Cirque du Soleil: A Fly on the Wall” (working title), 13 half-hours, debuting in the first quarter of 2003, that follow the months-long rehearsal period as the Cirque mounts a new show.

— “Second City Presents,” six hours of comic interviews, debuting in the third quarter of this year, with Second City alumni and others, including Tracey Ullman, Jon Lovitz and Martin Short.

— “Based on the Book,” 11 hours, debuting in the fourth quarter of this year, that examine the process of turning books into films. Subjects include “The Cider House Rules,” “Silence of the Lambs” and “Get Shorty.”

In 2002-03, Bravo will pass more than 70 million households and will more than double its original-series offerings to nine, said Ed Carroll, executive VP and general manager of Bravo and the Independent Film Channel. It will also begin off-network runs of “The Larry Sanders Show” this fall and “The West Wing” in fall 2003.

Bravo also will be telecasting two new four-hour miniseries, “Crime and Punishment,” based on the 19th-century Dostoyevsky novel, and “Thursday the 12th,” a murder mystery. The network also has given new-episode orders to “Inside the Actors Studio,” “Musicians” and “The It Factor.”

Specials coming to Bravo include “Saltimbanco,” another big-top spectacular from the Cirque, “The Miles Davis Story” and “Smothered,” a two-hour look at the late-1960s censorship battles between the Smothers Brothers and CBS.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications