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What's next for David Letterman? Nothing good
Now that we've all taken a deep breath and absorbed the news that David Letterman had sex with his staffers and was the victim of an alleged attempted extortion plot, let's get down to brass tacks here.What are the dangers for Letterman now? There are many, so let's go to the bullets:
1.) He runs a production company, Worldwide Pants. The danger: Yes, Dave is the 62-year-old CEO of a company that supplies programs to CBS, and he has admitted to having multiple affairs with subordinates. The additional danger: While none have stepped forward claiming harassment, the implications in situations such as this are always the same -- that a powerful man used his position to extract sexual favors from employees. That may very well not have been the case at all, but the implication still exists -- a reason why CEOs are held to the very highest standards, and why companies talk constantly about sexual harassment in the workplace. Again, I caution: No one is making this charge, but the questions now arise. 2.) Letterman has been a lightning rod for the right wing after his Palin daughter joke bombs over the summer. The danger: This could be real -- they could muster advertiser boycotts, for example -- or a mere shrug of the shoulders blip. "See! We told you what he was like," they could say. But he is not the host of a children's show either, but host of a late night talk show . . . If they do, however, organize advertiser boycotts . . . watch out. 3.) The story is combustible. The danger: This will be covered aggressively for days, for weeks, and not just by the papers, but the various Web sites, like TMZ. They will chase EVERYTHING -- who were the women; what is the environment like inside "Late Show;" what did Dave do at NBC; what does his wife, Regina, think; and on and on and on. Each story will be a daily headline in the New York Post, and elsewhere. Dave could suffer a death from a thousand cuts. 4.) CBS will almost certainly launch an internal investigation. The danger: Oh yes, it will. The minefield will be especially acute here, because CBS News will have to get involved as well as CBS corporate. They will seek to find out who this man was, how the situation got out of hand, and again, what the nature of the workplace environment is like over at the Ed Sullivan Theater. 5.) Ratings will be huge. The danger: But they'll be huge for all the wrong reasons. Millions will tune in to see what Dave might say again. Millions will look for additional meanings in his monologue jokes. Millions will think -- this guy admitted to have multiple affairs. This is what people do -- and why there are huge traffic jams near accidents on highways. People slow down to take a look, to see the carnage. 6.) Letterman's image has suddenly been shifted. The danger: Come on! Let's not get too carried away here! He's never held himself up as a moral exemplar. But for his longtime fans, he was never really considered a person who was particularly libidinous either. He's Dave! He doesn't chase women. In a funny way, that made him even more appealing -- good old Dave, who may be funny and nutty, but he doesn't he have any grubby impulses that would make us think askance. Now, we must wonder . . .
7.) Letterman's act will be impacted. The danger: Letterman's act IS Letterman. He can make jokes about the situation, and perhaps will, but the inherent danger there is that these jokes will be about FEMALE STAFFERS WHO HAVE WORKED AND STILL WORK FOR HIM. They're probably not laughing right now. Dave will of course continue to joke about the various sexual tics of people in power -- Clinton was a favorite target for well over a decade -- but every time he makes another joke about a sleazy congressman's bed-hopping, or some senator's creepy moves, or some big star's swordsmanship . . . viewers will be forced to think in their minds, "et tu, Dave? Et tu . . .?"
8.) Last night's announcement was a scenesetter. The danger: It was a horrific scene-setter. Here was a famous man talking about a serious crime that was perpetrated against him, and the AUDIENCE WAS LAUGHING. When he said, that, yes, he did have sex with women in his office, they actually clapped. The whole scene was other-worldly, as though viewers had tuned into a particularly peculiar David Lynch movie. Whom to
blame? The audience? Well, as laugh tracks long ago proved, people who get free tickets to tapings will LAUGH AT ANYTHING. But I think Dave has some culpability here too - he treated it lightly, as if just another jokey story he was about to tell. Instead, he should have stood before everyone immediately following the monologue's commercial break, and explained in absolutely sober tones exactly what happened.
Photo: Image from CBS